John Batman's Statue Tried for War Crimes

On Sunday October 6th 1991 approximately eighty Koori and Gubbah (non-aborigines) took to the streets of Melbourne to uncover the brutal history of Australia since the white invasion and to call for a new era of solidarity and support for the Koori struggle for self determination in their own land. The march was designed to highlight the 161st anniversary of the official declaration of war against the Tasmanian Aborigines by Governor Arthur on October 7th, 1830, and the establishment of the "Black Line", a massive official military operation designed to exterminate the Tasmanian Aborigines. The march focused on John Batman, the "founder of Melbourne", who was instrumental in the attempted genocide of Tasmanian Aborigines before arriving in the Port Phillip region and continuing to dispossess and destroy Koori peoples here.

Activists gathered at Flinders Park on Batman Avenue before marching to the Supreme Court where a barrister outlined the Genocide Convention of 1948 and how Australian Law has continually transgressed that convention in relation to its treatment of Aboriginal people. A Koori activist Gary Foley then outlined how Australian Law continues to work actively against the interests of Aborigines in their struggles for recognition and social justice. After he spoke, activists climbed the fence at the Supreme court en masse to serve eviction notices on the building, highlighting the basic illegality of this institution on Aboriginal land and the inappropriate and unjust nature of the laws and values it represents in relation to its treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

Attention then turned to the statue of John Batman, where activists returned those original implements and a Koori activist Robbie Thorpe tore up a copy of the original treaty. He then proceeded to place the statue of John Batman on trial for war crimes. Batman was charged with theft, trespass, rape and genocide. As each charge was read, the crowd responded with a guilty verdict, and a sign for each of the crimes was hung on the neck of the statue. The hands of the statue were then taped red to signify the blood and suffering this man was responsible for. After the trial was held, Gubbahs were invited to form their own treaty with Aboriginal people by signing up to pay the rent for their use of Aboriginal land.

The action was very successful in many respects. As with most Koori social protest, there was a very large police turnout, and the police present were exposed to the truth about treatment of Koori people, information that many of them would never have been exposed to before. It generated a lot of positive media coverage in both the electronic and print media. It was both educational and confrontational, by attempting to reclaim the real history of Melbourne, and to challenge the wall of apathy, indifference and racism that still runs through the Gubbah community in relation to Koori issues and struggle. Unless non-aboriginal Australia acknowledges and understands the brutal history of Australia since the invasion, we will never fully grasp the causes and nature of the attitudinal and structural factors that continue to oppress Aboriginal people today.

Brendan Condon