Tag Archives: Queen Victoria Market

The John Batman Memorial

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.

John Batman Memorial (thanks to Linda Ely for the photo)

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. The cairn moved with the cemetery but was never considered as a marker for Batman’s grave. In 1922 it was moved back to the city 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.” 

Detail of the John Batman Memorial (thanks to Geoff Irvin for the photo)

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.


Lunch & Last Supper

On Sunday Catherine and I had lunch at the Queen Victoria Market; spicy bratwurst with sauerkraut from the Melbourne Bratwurst Shop. Although it was nothing like the food served at the last supper but it was a delicious lunch – I picked up a flyer advertising a “Last Supper Foodies Tour” at the market, if the hyper-real experience of Peter Greenaway’s Leonardo’s Last Supper wasn’t enough for your senses.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper was a failure. Ask the monks of Sta. Maria delle Grazie in Milan who commissioned it. They were calling for Leonardo to come back and repair it shortly after he completed it. It was a failure of technique and materials. Restorers have been trying to repair it ever since. Like the restorers many artists have been inspired by this magnificent failure to attempt to complete it themselves.

Peter Greenaway version of Leonardo’s Last Supper at the North Melbourne Town Hall is a triumph of technique and technology. The installation is the same size as the refectory of Sta. Maria delle Grazie. The Last Supper, a portion of surviving frescoed wall with a window (allied air forces bombing destroyed much of refectory in WWII) and the opposite Renaissance fresco of a crucifixion are projected onto the space. In the middle stands a table covered in a white cloth. The table is laid out corresponding with the painting in all white plates, mugs, bread and chicken as in the painting. This three-dimensional hyper-real and arty white simulacrum is the least tasteful aspect of the installation.

The light projection onto the painting was impressive and dramatic; there is no narrator or a narrative to the 20-minute audio-visual experience. Days pass by as the light from a window crosses the painting. Greenaway plays with the image creating a baroque quality with chiaroscuro lighting, highlighting the variety of hand gestures, options for a restoration and explorations of light sources. For me the extreme close-up of the painting was the best part, the isolated and cracked bits of paint become a landscape that you travel across, as viewed through an art restorers lens. The last of the paint is about to fall off the wall. Leonardo’s Last Supper raises the question how much does the technical success matter compared to the content and composition?

I’ve enjoyed many of Peter Greenaway films and other productions for decades. I enjoy his love of intrigue and ability to assemble information into a dramatic presentation, as in his Rembrandt’s J’accuse (2008) or Darwin (1993). Leonardo’s Last Supper is part of Greenaway’s series of “Nine Classical Paintings Revisited” returning to the ambition of his youth to be a painter. Although the audience was encouraged by the ushers before entering the exhibition to move about during the exhibition there was little reason to do anything more than turn around to look at the screen on the opposite wall.

“Look beyond the surface. You won’t believe your eyes” is the sales pitch for this multimedia installation at the North Melbourne Town Hall. The festival website also suggested visiting “Domov Gallery, adjacent to Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, and see the series of prints that demonstrate Andy Warhol’s fascination with The Last Supper.”  I haven’t heard of Domov Gallery before; it is a small white walled gallery next to the North Melbourne Town Hall with half a dozen small prints by Andy Warhol. Warhol’s Last Supper series are just another popular image copied by Warhol.

Catherine and I walked back through North Melbourne stopping to look at the Thread Den on Webbs Lane. Thread Den has local independent designer clothes and jewellery, along with vintage clothing for men and women; it also runs sewing classes and has children’s craft room. We went down Webbs Lane so that I could photograph some of the street art there and had a look at the exhibition in Famous When Dead – Urban Art Agenda #3, an exhibition of international stencil artists from Europe, Brazil, USA, Iran and Australia. We then bought some bargain priced meat at the Victoria Market (there are always some good deals around closing time) had a coffee and took the tram home.


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