Since the infamous TREATY was signed on 6th June 1835, the exact circumstances of the foundation of Melbourne, and the question of who should take credit, have long been matters of dispute.
Even the location of the signing remains a mystery and is hotly debated.
View a graphic of Batman's Treaty including a transcript of the Batman Land Deed.
Firstly, the treaty document signed by John Batman and the Wurundjeri elders is known by several names including an Aboriginal word for a tribe which is spelt many ways including Doutta Galla, Douta Galla , Dutigalla, Dutergalla, Dutigullar, Dutigulla as well as Batman Deed, Batman Treaty not forgetting Melbourne Treaty or Melbourne Deed.
John Batman recorded in his journal that he had signed a treaty with the local Aboriginal people, the Wurundjeri to buy 2,000 km of land around Melbourne and another 400 km around Geelong. In exchange he gave the eight chiefs whose marks he acquired on the treaty, a quantity of blankets, knives, tomahawks, scissors, looking-glasses, flour, handkerchiefs and shirts.
Under British law, the treaty was legally invalid as the land belonged to the Crown, not to the Wurundjeri, and they had no more right to sell the land than Batman had to buy it. The Wurundjeri had no chiefs or concept of land ownership and would never have agreed to alienate their land even if they had understood what Batman was proposing.
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WHERE WAS THE TREATY SIGNED
The exact location where the treaty was signed also remains in dispute. There have been numerous locations given including Merri Creek, Darebin Creek, Edgars Creek, Moonee Ponds Creek and the Plenty River.
Local Indigenous memory and popular history identifies the treaty site as beside the Merri Creek near Rushall Station, while others mantain it was further north on another waterway.
Treaty Memorial Site, Merri Creek, Northcote [View Pic]
An interesting find was made by workers clearing undergrowth and willow trees from the banks of the Merri Creek in July 2004. A 45 square centimetre concrete block was found during works by the City of Darebin which now incorporates Northcote. The top of the white painted block has four upright steel bolts and a coating of glue which indicate it had been used as the base for a plaque.
Darebin Council, realising the significance of their find, notified local historians and an article appeared in the "Northcote Leader" newspaper on Wednesday 21 July 2004. Rex Harcourt, author of "Southern Invasion - Northern Conquest" and a Northcote resident was quoted as saying "In times gone by, the Northcote Council knew a plaque had been placed on the banks of the Merri Creek (to mark the treaty signing site) but after many searches in the 1950's and 1960's they were unable to locate it. This object is, in all probability, the base for the plaque the council was looking for."
The plaque site is located beside the creek near the end of Cunningham Street, Northcote. It is a short distance upstream, and on the opposite side of the Merri Creek, from Rushall Railway Station. This is the area where Chief Billibellary (Jika Jika) is said to have lived. It is also the area where John Pascoe Fawkner said the treaty had been signed when he wrote a letter in 1862 to "The Age", a Melbourne newspaper.
Amateur historian Fred Bruton of East Brighton believes that an 1857 painting by John Wesley Burtt is an accurate representation of the treaty negotiations of 6 June 1835. It was said to have been accompanied with testimonials from those with first hand knowledge of the event that details and location were correct. The painting was moved to the State Library of Victoria in 1932.
The entry in John Batman's journal for 6 June 1835 says, in part, "This (treaty signing) took place alongside of a beautiful stream of water, and from whence my land commences, and where a tree is marked four ways to know the corner boundary. The country about here exceeds anything I ever saw, both for grass and richness of soil. The timber light, and consists of sheoak and small gum, with a few wattle." Local folklore tells of such a tree with Aboriginal markings on it which grew on the banks of the Merri Creek until it was uprooted by floodwaters and washed away. This tree is said to appear in John Burtt's 1857 painting. Rex Harcourt has a mounted section of a tree, believed to be from this "Batman Tree". He retrieved it from a Doncaster garage some years ago though it was said to have been previously kept at the Northcote Town Hall.
A report about the finding of the concrete block was also shown on television on ATV 10's five o'clock News on Wednesday 28 July 2004. In addition to showing scenes of the find at Merri Creek their report linked this story to another about a memorial to John Batman which has disappeared from the footpath in Flinders Street. This memorial was a large pink coloured block with golden metallic lettering set into the footpath outside the Old Customs House (now the Immigration Museum) near the corner of William Street.
A further report in the "Northcote Leader" of Wednesday 28 July 2004 contained a counter claim by amateur historian Merv Lia that John Batman's treaty with local Aborigines was signed at Edgar's Creek near Westgarthtown, between Thomastown and Lalor. He bases his opinion on his own experience as a bushwalker and his interpretation of Batman's journal. The report also quoted a number of other experts who either believed that the evidence in favour of the Northcote site was not conclusive or who favoured some other site.
Publicity about the above find was very likely the reason for a significant increase in the number of people viewing the Port Phillip Pioneers Group's website at the end of July.
Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes (See link below).
View a graphic of Batman's Treaty including a transcript of the Batman Land Deed.
The historian Alistair Campbell points out that the marks allegedly made by the "chiefs" are similar to markings made on trees by the Aboriginal people around Parramatta, where Batman grew up.
At the bottom of Batman's diary (journal), there are marks that look suspiciously like the signatures on the treaty. This has led some historians to think that Batman may have forged the signatures on the treaty.
It is also possible that the marks were made by one of the five Aboriginal men Batman had brought with him from Parramatta, since they resemble marks commonly used by Aboriginal people from that area.
Batman’s own journal describes how he actually made the chiefs ‘signatures’ on the deeds himself. Source: Penny Van Toorn, ‘Transactions on the borderlands of Aboriginal writing’, Social Semiotics, Vol 11, No. 2, 2001.
There were actually two separate treaties, each executed on parchment in triplicate.
The first was named Grant of Territory called DUTIGALLA. Dated 6th June 1835 which covered 40 miles (500,000 acres) of Melbourne. The second covered 100,000 acres of Indented Head near Geelong.
Regardless of the authenticity, accuracy or validness of the treaties, this was a remarkable event in Australian history.
Batman is practically the only white man in the 19th century to acknowledge that Aborigines owned land. Furthermore, he undertook not to buy it from them but to pay an annual rental of what was then not an inconsiderable amount of food and goods. Whether this was done in the proper way and for a fair amount is highly questionable, but it contrasts strongly with virtually all other acts of Australian settlement in the 19th century which involved no acknowledgement of ownership, no rental and a straightforward taking of the land.
Since neither Batman, the Sydney Aboriginal men or the Wurundjeri men spoke anything approaching the same language, it is almost certain that the elders did not understand the treaty, instead probably perceiving it as part of the series of gift exchanges which had taken place over the previous few days amounting to a tanderrum ceremony which allows temporary access and use of the land.
The treaty was declared null and void by Governor Bourke within six months of John and Henry Batman and the Port Phillip Association organising this treaty.
However, this attempt to 'do the right thing' was to haunt him both before and after his death right down to the present day.
Some of the repercussions include:
The colonial authorities in New South Wales soon overthrew the agreement because the land didn't belong to the Aborigines, it belonged to "The Crown".
Even after his death, his monument was to mock his idea that Aborigines had rights to the land by declaring that at the time of his arrival, Melbourne was "then unoccupied". It is still common to find publications that use a subtractive myth to pass Batman and his treaty off as purely villainous.
Batman's Treaty has become a particularly fashionable subject for a certain type of 'conceptual artist' with a limited but passionate view of history ln order to express their view about what they've been told about Australian history. A major example can be found at Melbourne Museum.
It has become common in recent times to find people rewriting history (usually for socio-political purposes) by dishonestly claiming "Batman bought land from the Aborigines for a handful of trinkets".
Batman's Douta Galla Treaty is one of the prime possessions of the La Trobe Library.