Thursday, March 13, 2014

Glass on the Bellarine Peninsula - a 180 year link

2015 will mark the 180th anniversary of the arrival of glass in the Geelong area, especially the Bellarine Peninsula.
Signing 'Batman's Treaty' - artist's impression

Glass mirrors played a major role in John Batman’s efforts to ‘rent’ 600,000 acres of Kulin nation land, covering today’s Melbourne, Geelong and Bellarine Peninsula. On 6 June 1835, Batman signed a treaty with eight Kulin nation elders, in which Batman rented the Kulin nation’s land for an annual rent or tribute of ‘one hundred Pair of Blankets, One Hundred Knives, One Hundred Tomahawks, Fifty Suits of Clothing, Fifty looking Glasses, Fifty Pair scissors and Five Tons of flour’; plus an initial payment of ‘Twenty Pairs of Blankets, Thirty Tomahawks, One Hundred Knives Fifty Pair of Scissorrs (sic), Thirty looking Glasses Two Hundred Handkerchiefs and One Hundred Pounds of Flour and six shirts’.

(The Kulin nation - an alliance of five Aboriginal nations, Wurundjeri, Bunurong, Wathaurong, Taungurong and Dja Dja Wurrung – were traditional owners of lands around the Yarra River.)

Batman’s account of the signing mentioned only one document, but subsequently he produced two deeds. The Melbourne Deed (also known as the Dutigulla Treaty, Dutigulla Deed, Melbourne Deed or just ‘Batman’s Treaty’) concerned 500,000 acres, including what is now Melbourne, the western arm of Port Phillip Bay and what is now the city of Geelong. The Geelong deed concerned a further 100,000 acres, including parts of the south coast of Victoria and the Bellarine Peninsula.

Batman had arrived from Launceston at what is now Indented Head in early May 1835, intent on purchasing from local aborigines a large tract of today’s southern Victoria, on which to graze stock and establish a settlement. He represented the Port Philip Association, formed earlier that year by fifteen leading sheep graziers of Van Dieman’s Land (today’s Tasmania) to acquire new grazing lands.

Batman’s treaty declared invalid
On 26 August 1835, NSW Governor Bourke declared Batman’s treaty invalid. Not only had Batman negotiated directly with the Aboriginal people, despite the British authorities claiming Australia for the Crown and dismissing any Aboriginal claim to the land; but also, he had purchased the land for the Port Philip Association, and not for the Crown. Nonetheless, Batman maintained until his death in 1839 that the treaty was valid; and it remains historically significant because it was the first and only documented instance of Europeans negotiating their presence and occupation of Aboriginal lands.

Even if Batman’s Treaty hadn’t been declared illegal, it would have had a very dubious status in law. It is unlikely that the elders who allegedly signed the treaties on 6 June understood the treaty as a transfer of land or, if they had, would have agreed to it. Instead, they probably saw the signing as akin to their own Tanderrum ceremony, in which gifts were exchanged (the Kulin elders gave Batman two fur cloaks, some stone axes, woomeras boomerangs and baskets) and local foliage was presented to strangers, signifying their access to and usage (but not ownership) of the host's land as well as protection. The strangers were expected to reciprocate by sharing their resources which, it could be argued, was what Batman’s party had done at the signing ceremony, but also on two occasions before and after it.

Glass mirrors and beads had been among the items that Batman gave a group of Wadda Wurrung women and children as evidence of his good intentions when he met them on 31 May 1835 at what he called Gellibrand Bay, near today’s Point Wilson. (The other items were blankets, handkerchiefs, sugar, apples and a tomahawk.) A final act of gift giving happened on 23 and 25 June at Indented Head, when James Gumm and William Todd - two members of a small group that Batman had left there on his departure for Launceston on June 8 - gave clothing, food and other items to a group of Wada Wurrung they had encountered.

Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol. 1. 1966. Melbourne University Press.
Ian D. Clark (c1990) “Aboriginal Languages and Clans: an historical atlas of Western and Central Victoria 1800-1900.” Melbourne: Monash Publications in Geography and Environmental Science: No. 37.
Rex Harcourt, 'The Batman treaties'. Victorian Historical Journal, vol. 62, nos. 3 & 4, Dec. 1991 - Mar. 1992, pp.85-97.

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