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  • Writer's pictureSerena O'Meley

Why John Batman is unfit to carry the name of a Federal Electoral Division - Speech to the AEC

Updated: May 18, 2021

[First published on Facebook on 21 April 2018]

I gave the speech below to a committee of the Australian Electoral Commission at a public hearing in Winchelsea and made the written submission in the link. Associate Professor Patrick Stokes, Cr Kim Le Cerf (then Mayor, of Darebin Council), Ged Kearney, MP (now the member for Cooper) and others also made submissions or showed support at the Melbourne hearings. The original campaign was kicked off by Cr Trent McCarthy. Together we were able to get the name of the Division of Batman changed. We were very fortunate that the AEC decided to rename the electorate after renowned Yorta Yorta man, William Cooper.

Ged Kearney MP's statements about the name change are in Hansard (21 June 2018) here.

Working to change the name of the Federal Division of Batman becomes an argument between history and myth.

Far from being a deserving recipient of public honour, for many of us who have looked closer at the public record, John Batman is a potent symbol of what is wrong with how Australia was invaded and colonised. We cannot hide from the fact that Batman was a bounty hunter of Palawa people in Van Diemen's land, and a con-artist who stole land from the Wurundjeri (and/or the Crown) under the guise of a "treaty."

Myths, however, are often impervious to facts because they are generated through collective action, emotion, the interplay of memory and forgetting, and the justifications that are embedded in founding stories. This can be seen by the way in which Batman was memorialised less than half a century after his death.

Batman's grave was originally in a cemetery where the current Queen Victoria Market stands. It was marked by a bluestone obelisk that was erected in 1881 with money raised by public subscriptions. The cemetery became derelict and was overtaken by the needs of the growing market.

Members of the public campaigned for several years to relocate many of the old graves and, in particular Batman's grave. They were successful and in 1922 a new granite obelisk was erected over his remains in Fawkner Cemetery. The obelisk, which today stands in the middle of a long avenue of roses in the 'Old Pioneers' section of the cemetery, became a focal point for annual memorials which helped to keep Batman's myth alive.

In 1929 Mr A. E. Staples delivered the following panegyric at one of these memorials:

"We gather here today to pay homage to the memory of one of Australia's most noble sons, John Batman. Since the day he founded Melbourne, a great city has grown and prospered. Batman laid the foundation by almost silent penetration, honorable purchase and peaceful understanding. His achievements were the outcome of courage, honesty and initiative. Few have ever realised the privations he suffered, the strenuous life he led and the responsibilities he had to carry. Sacrifices, great and small, were made by the pioneer during his daily life, and his name must be kept ever green."

(Windsor and Richmond Gazette (NSW : 1888 - 1954), Friday 19 April 1929, page 2).

No one could deliver such a speech today.

John Batman's name is forever tarnished by his true legacy as someone who, without conscience, led and participated in genocidal acts against Aboriginal Peoples. Such a person cannot be considered to have rendered "outstanding service" to his country, which is the main criteria which the Australian Electoral Commission uses when naming a seat.

Batman's time has passed. A mature Australia needs to tell itself the truth about its racist foundations and address in every possible way the intergenerational damage which continues for Original Peoples to this day.

My submission to the AEC is here.

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