It is obscene to have a memorial to a genocidal colonial. I wouldn’t want to honour a person who committed genocide, but the City of Melbourne, along with many Australians, isn’t that concerned. The John Batman memorial at Queen Victoria Market should be removed because: it honours a genocidal colonial, engages in historical negationism, has little historic value, less aesthetic value and is not in its original context.
For years the City of Melbourne had the opportunity to be on the right side of history with the John Batman Memorial. The current plan is considering the memorial in the redevelopment of the market rather than removing it. To allow change for redevelopment rather than an ethical decision shows a lack of any moral character. For if the John Batman Memorial is removed, it will be done, not out of any introspection or empathy or reflection on history, but as a business decision in the redevelopment of the market’s car park. The current market redevelopment is officially called a ‘renewal’, and the memorial to the racist criminal is still there. Similarly, the statue of John Batman that once stood in National Mutual Plaza on Collins St was removed in 2016 for reasons of redevelopment rather than as an ethical decision.
Putting profits before ethics is part of a pattern of behaviour for the site; for profit is the only thing that is sacred in Australia. For before it was a market, it was the site of the city’s first cemetery.
John Batman was buried in an unmarked grave, an accident of history that is appropriate for a person who committed genocide. The memorial was erected over forty years after Batman’s death. When the cemetery was moved, Batman’s body was disinterred along with the rest from the old Melbourne cemetery and reburied in Fawkner cemetery, named after his contemporary rival in land theft, William Fawkner. In 1922 the memorial was moved to the north bank of the Yarra at Swan Street Bridge. It was moved again to its current site when the City of Melbourne wanted to develop the north bank of Yarra.
The bluestone obelisk is the work of J. W. Brown, a stonemason working in Carlton, and is about as attractive as your average gravestone. Not surprisingly the memorial has not transitioned from memorial to monument to marker: people don’t say that they will meet at the Batman memorial. It has not even been allowed to decay naturally and fade into insignificance. It is maintained at public expense, including the taxes paid by the descendants of Batman’s victims, which is like asking victims of the Cambodian killing fields to pay to maintain a memorial to a member of the Khmer Rouge.
If anyone thinks that the memorial could be rectified with the addition of an explanative plaque should consider the one that is already there:
“The City of Melbourne acknowledges that the historical events and perceptions referred to by this memorial are inaccurate. An apology is made to Indigenous people and to the traditional owners of this land for the wrong beliefs of the past and the personal upset caused.”
The difference in font size and the quality between the broken (badly weathered or vandalised) black print and the memorials gilded letters is obvious. The vague weasel words “inaccurate” rather than what it is, genocide denialism, is referring to “then unoccupied,” (although the date of Batman’s birth is out by a year). There is no mention of genocide and no apology for the theft of land. The politics of the claim of unoccupied, “terra nullius” was historical negation even then, of a sort that would later be Holocaust denial. And Holocaust denial statements are not “inaccurate” they are wrong.
While statues celebrating racists have been removed this year, toppled or officially taken down, in many countries including Belgium, Columbia, Canada, NZ, South Africa, UK and US, no statues or memorial have been removed in Australia. (Although there was a guerrilla action to rewrite and replace plaques in Perth.) Australian politicians (ALP or LNP, whatever your preference) are too conservative to honestly look at the genocidal racist history of Australia. Many of these same politicians are more concerned with finding ways to stop the Black Lives Matter protests than implementing the findings of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.
October 19th, 2020 at 6:52 PM
I admire your work Mark but you are not being specific enough here. Please spell out the genocide by Batman to which you are objecting. Usually you are really local and observant. Probably I agree with you entirely but you haven’t spelt out the crimes of the racist criminal.
October 19th, 2020 at 7:14 PM
I thought that the genocide in Tasmania was well known and that people could use Wikepedia.
February 4th, 2021 at 11:42 AM
One of a few examples…in his own words…and not the worst
On the 5th of August 1829, Batman’s party came across a large Aboriginal camp. He and his eleven men (two of whom were “Sydney Blacks” recruited by Batman as trackers) crept as close as they could before one of them “struck his musket against that of another party, which immediately alarmed the dogs”. According to Batman’s own words, the Aborigines:
“Were in the act of running away into the thick scrub, when I ordered the men to fire upon them, which was done, and a rush by the party immediately followed, we only captured that Night one woman and a male child about Two years old, the party was in search of them the remainder of the Night, but without success, the next morning we found one man very badly wounded in his ankle and knee, shortly after we found another 10 buckshot had entered his Body, he was alive but very bad, there was a great number of traces of blood in various directions and learned from those we took that 10 men were wounded in the Body which they gave us to understand were dead or would die, and Two women in the same state had crawled away, besides a number that was shot in the legs… on Friday morning we left the place for my Farm with the two men, woman and child, but found it quite impossible that the Two former could walk, and after trying them by every means in my power, for some time, found I could not get them on. I was obliged therefore to shoot them.”
February 4th, 2021 at 11:47 AM
Thanks for providing that insight into John Batman’s amoral character.