John Batman Attempts to Enter Treaty with Kulin at Merri Creek
When farmer John Batman first rowed down the Yarra River (the Birrarung), he was excited to see acres of lush green land – ideally suited, he thought, to farming.
In 1835, at the age of 12 years, Barak witnessed the first and only bid for a “treaty” between Aboriginal and white Australians, when eight Koorie clan leaders met with Batman on the banks of Merri Creek. Batman had brought along several “Sydney blacks” to help with negotiations, but regional differences meant the language barrier remained, and the conversation was conducted largely in mime.
The resultant misunderstandings had dire consequences for the Kulin peoples of the Narrm (Melbourne) region. To Batman, his “treaty” was a land purchase contract – whereas to the traditional owners, it was similar to a temporary permit visa.
Batman assumed he had gained 360,000 hectares of land in exchange for blankets, beads, knives and mirrors; however, the original inhabitants thought these items were gifts, traditionally exchanged as part of the tanderum hospitality ceremony held when newcomers enter another people’s land.
After this historic misunderstanding, Batman inaccurately declared himself “the greatest landowner in the world.”
As the expansion of farming quickly forced the Kulin peoples from their traditional grounds, the population was ravaged by introduced diseases and starvation.