Tag Archives: Fawkner

Memorials to a murderer

To make it clear about the moral character of John Batman, his neighbour, the colonial landscape painter John Glover, described him as “a rogue, thief, cheat and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known”. Even Batman’s wife did not stand by the evil, syphilitic, alcoholic man who claimed to have bought the land where Melbourne now stands for a few axes and bags of flour.

John Batman Memorial at Fawkner Cemetery

So how many statues and memorials does Melbourne need to this awful man? How many places, parks and railway stations need to be named after him? Melbourne had over half a dozen, but fortunately, that number has been lowered. A statue of Batman on Collins Street was removed for construction purposes in 2016. Batman Park in Northcote has been renamed Gumbri Park, but there is still a Batman Park in the CBD. The Australian Electoral Commission renamed the inner-city federal seat of Batman in honour of Indigenous rights campaigner William Cooper. Batman train station and two obelisks, one at Fawkner Cemetery and another at Queen Victoria Market, remains.

In 2020 I made a formal complaint about having a memorial to a genocidal criminal in the City of Melbourne. I was informed that: “it is currently being considered in the context of the Queen Victoria Market site. The memorial is an existing feature of the space, and its future will be considered as part of the overall design process. Close consultation with the relevant Traditional Owner groups and descendants of the Batman family is currently being undertaken.” The ongoing consultations have gone nowhere. The inadequate explanation of Batman on the memorial is barely an acknowledgement. The City of Melbourne should return this lump of stone to an Indigenous artist Mandy Nicholson, who carves impressive petroglyphs. 

Thanks to Jo Waite for pointing out the historic photograph of the Batman memorial at Fawkner Cemetery. Melbourne City Councillors in top hats and frock coats standing next to a new obelisk. I rode my bicycle north along the Upfield railway line to see for myself. I found it easily enough, it stands several metres tall in the flat lawn cemetery. It is amongst the old gravestones removed from the old Melbourne cemetery to make way for the Melbourne market (“money before decency” is the Australian motto). The isolated memorial in the lawn cemetery is the most recent of memorials to Batman. It was constructed in 1922, about the same time as many of the Confederate monuments in the USA. A time of international uncertainty, where monuments were designed to cement traditional views in the civic infrastructure.

As few cars were around and the weather was pleasant, I decided to bicycle back on a different route. It was then that I became lost in the vast cemetery, and some panic set in. Why was I putting in this energy to trace the surface archeology of Australian colonialism? Speaking ill of the dead in a place created to commemorate them. Eventually, I found another exit from the graveyard. Like the cemetery map, the network of institutional racism needs to be recognised from the colonial origins to the present. As the Batman memorial at Queen Victoria Market says circumspice, Latin meaning “You must look around”.


Dan Wollmering’s Dwelling

Dan Wollmering is a Melbourne-based contemporary sculptor. He has works in sculptures parks in the China and the USA, a large metal sculpture Xanthe (also known as “The Future Vitality of Caulfield”) at the corner of Glen Eira and Hawthorn Roads, and closer to my home, a sculpture on the grounds of the Fawkner Leisure Centre. I took the train out to Gowrie just to see it.

Dan Wollmering Dwelling

Gowrie is a northern station on the Upfield line. It is past the Fawkner Cemetery where the train line goes through the park cemetery. I have only been to this part of Melbourne’s northern suburbs a couple of times before, so the area was all new to me.

Walking to the Fawkner Leisure Centre I asked directions from a sleep deprived young dad pushing his baby daughter around. She had been a “grisly little baby last night”. He was walking that way and happy to help in my search for the sculpture. We walked through the park at the front of the leisure centre where a lot of the outdoor exercise and the playground equipment looked like abstract sculptures, although nothing like Wollmering’s work.

I tried to describe Wollmering’s work to the dad; who said he thought that there was something curved and metal around the side.

Dwelling was commissioned by Moreland City Council with some funds from Monash University) sited in front of the child care entrance at the Leisure Centre in Fawkner Victoria. It is a circle of metal partially surrounded by a curved metal seat with a high back. Public art providing a place to sit is always welcomed by tired feet.

At one end of this bench is a local stone excavated from a council construction site with the word “Willam” (dwelling in the local Wurundjeri language group) carved on it. At the other is form like a half avocado with the seed still in; I had seen this form in Wollmering’s last exhibition (see my blog post.)

Around the back of the bench are more panels with text. It is amongst the most wordy sculptures in Melbourne. The text was written by Moria Bourke, the author of Loosing It (1998, Text Publishing), with lots of  local collaboration; the local Indigenous elder was consulted and much of the text was taken verbatim from the questionnaire about how people felt about dwelling in Fawkner, their incorrect grammar included.

The young dad put the breaks on the baby carriage. We could have sat down but it was a freezing winter day. We didn’t read all the text but we did clear the circle of metal of leaves, sweeping them away with our feet, so that we could look at the full work.

Mission accomplished; the dad and his baby continued on their way and I headed back to Gowrie station to catch the train home.


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