Community, Featured, Local History

Batman, Two-Face and the Founding of Melbourne

January 8, 2017

Melbourne was founded in Northcote by a guy called Batman. But our real origin story begins with the great bushranger Matthew Brady.

For years, Brady destroyed every ambush the police set for his gang with a calm head and deadly trigger finger. In December 1825 or early 1826, his gang betrayed him, the police shot him in the leg and he limped away. After all the cops’ bungled efforts, a farmer found and captured him. That farmer would become a legendary bounty hunter and create Melbourne.

His name was John Batman.

Merri Creek Northcote

Merri Creek today, a place of significance and a meeting place for the Wurundjeri people. Credit: Julian Frees

From then on, Batman earned himself a feared reputation and is one of the most controversial figures in Melbourne’s history. His fame peaked in 1835 when Batman met with a number of Wurundjeri chiefs, probably on the banks of Merri Creek and most likely standing near what’s now the end of Cunningham Street in Northcote. Three of the eight chiefs were called Jagajaga. He swapped 600,000 acres (almost all of the Kulin Nation’s ancestral land) for some blankets, knives, flour, mirrors and other goodies, although it is unlikely that the chiefs would have understood this as a transfer of land or agreed to it if they had. Today, the treaty itself can be found in the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne.

In this world, Two-Face is the good guy and Batman the villain… many of Batman’s bounties are believed to have been innocent Tasmanian aboriginal people.

A man named John Pascoe Fawkner funded Batman’s trip. He was a lawyer who stuck up for workers in an age when sheep farmers were hogging all the land. Still, this lawyer had a dark side. He was an old convict with convict parents. Fawkner’s back was covered in cat’s claw scars where the soldiers whipped him. He was meant to meet the Wurundjeri chiefs with Batman but creditors kept him from going along.

Basically, Fawkner was Two-Face.

In this world, Two-Face is the good guy and Batman the villain. While Fawkner defended the first Aussie battlers, many of Batman’s bounties are believed to have been innocent Tasmanian aboriginal people.

batman treaty inner circle magazine melbourne northcote

Base of what is believed to an old plaque, probably marking the spot where Batman met the chiefs. Credit: Julian Frees

Just over a decade ago we found the base of a plaque at Merri Creek opposite Cunningham Street, probably the spot where Batman met the chiefs. Whatever Melbourne put there is lost, but Northcote isn’t one for stuffy plaques and pillars. Instead there’s a ceiling of bushy gum leaves and a trail where the locals stroll. Cunningham Street and Rushall station end short of the creek, although as we visited the site while researching this story, it was incredibly disappointing to see that the area, which holds much cultural significance to the Wurundjeri people of today as their ancestral land, a meeting place and the area where Chief Billibellary is said to have lived, has been left to decay with litter and graffiti. We do hope the area will be restored to some of it’s former outstanding natural beauty.

Meanwhile there are memorials in place for Batman and Fawkner, with bronze statues in the CBD. We have the electorate of Batman, and for a while Melbourne had the coolest name ever laid on a city: Batmania.


Feature Image: Public Domain, unattributed – A. Garren (ed), Picturesque Atlas of Australasia, 2 vols, Picturesque Atlas Publishing Company, Sydney, 1886. Vol 1 p161
The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes

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