The Real Batman

Published Northsider May 2016

We’ve been looking to buy a house and seen one in the North Coburg enclave of Batman. What a great name. Surely it must be named after the great DC Comic character? To my disappointment, it isn’t. But it is named after a man. One who wasn’t concerned with truth and justice, who didn’t fight for good. One who was more Joker than Bruce Wayne.

John Batman is known for being a founding father of Melbourne. He led an expedition in 1835 which explored Port Phillip and subsequently contributed to the setting up of a village, which grew into the metropolis which I now inhabit. Batman was a grazier, entrepreneur and explorer. But he was also a murderer of aborigines, a thief, a cheat and a liar, at least according to his artist neighbour John Glover, who described him as “the vilest man I have ever known.” Of course, if Glover had lived to see Trump run for president he might have had to think twice before committing to that statement.

Batman participated in hunting and capturing Tasmanian aborigines and was a key player in the Black War. After he captured the original Australians he shot them, or ordered others to shoot them for him. He refused to hand over aboriginal boys in his employ, saying they were as much his property as his farm. To add insult to injury (and death) he acquired native lands through deception. His part in the treaty to “rent” the land of the Wurundjeri people in exchange for 40 pairs of blankets, 42 tomahawks, 130 knives, 62 pairs of scissors, 40 looking glasses, 250 handkerchiefs, 18 shirts, four flannel jackets, four suits of clothes, and 150lb of flour is preposterous. I wonder if the vendors of the house we’re interested in would accept my collection of belly button fluff, a packet of jelly tots, some expired condoms and a punch in the face for their four-bedroom home?

The irony isn’t lost on me, and I do feel some discomfort about buying a home that sits on land that was potentially “robbed” from native people. Of course, this isn’t unique to Australia. Native people have been screwed over the world over. What a greedy bunch of nasty colonials. I’m deeply ashamed of parts of my British heritage.

So there I was rifling through a stranger’s home during an “open for inspection,” in a suburb named after a complete bastard. There’s also a Batman bridge, park, hill, two avenues, a crescent, lane, a bunch of streets, a walk, a drive, gardens and the railway station. I wonder if Germany has a “Hitler Walk” or “Himmler Heights?” Cambodia a “Pol Pot Crescent?” Italy a “Mussolini Drive?” New York a “Trump Tower?” If they do I’d be equally uncomfortable with those.

So can we lobby Moreland council for a name change? I bet it would cost a few bucks to implement. But why not? Batman Station has only been known as such since 1914 and before then it was known as Bell Park. If the council agreed to a name change maybe we could choose another superhero like Robin, Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, Hulk or Captain America. The authorities would probably go for Captain America. Sucking up to the USA has become a national obsession but I’m not sure how comfortable I would be telling people I live in Captain America.

I’m not egotistical enough to think that, just because I want to change the name we should. Perhaps it’s more important to remember the horrors and injustice of our past? But the only people who could really make that call would be the traditional owners of this land. The ones that were ripped off by John Batman and his mates in the first place.

There are many lessons one could learn from this tale. The first is that I’m an opinionated geezer with a distrust of wig wearing American billionaires. But the most important lesson is still to come. John Batman died of syphilis on May 6, 1839, aged just 38 years. In his final few months, he was cared for by the local aboriginal people!


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