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Batman out, Simon Wonga in: the fight to change an electorate

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Batman out, Simon Wonga in: the fight to change an electorate

It’s great for superhero jokes, but Batman has a dark legacy.

You might have noticed, during the past federal election, that Australia has a voting region named Batman. Well, there’s a push by Aboriginal activists and the Darebin Council to have the region renamed in honour of Simon Wonga. But let’s start with why it’s called Batman in the first place.

John Batman was a British grazier who founded Victoria back in the 1835, setting up a settlement on the Yarra that eventually became Melbourne. He wasn’t the nicest person, even though he was a self-promoter (if other people hadn’t stepped in, our southern state would be called “Batmania”). His dealings with Indigenous people generally involved either unfair trades for land – unless you consider 68kg of flour, four suits of clothes, and some axes, knives and scissors for 250,000 hectares a fair deal – or participation in massacres to “clear” his land.

Simon Wonga, on the other hand, was a Wurundjeri elder who set up the Coranderrk settlement, having won back land that had been taken from his people. He formed a friendly relationship with Assistant Aboriginal Protector William Thomas, and used this connection to help right injustices in the short term, and learn the negotiation skills that would help him navigate European society in the long term.

Changing the electorate’s name has been a long-term project for some of the locals, with calls to get rid of Batman coming from at least 2013. But now the plan has gained more support, with the current holder of the seat, Labor’s David Feeney, backing the name change.

“There can be debate about what the contribution of John Batman was,” he said. “But clearly modern scholarship has revealed that his participation in conflict in Tasmania and the notion that he was essentially bounty hunting first Australians in Tasmania mean that the Wurundjeri’s angst and other’s angst is perfectly reasonable.”

Locals are also working to remove Batman’s name from parks and other landmarks.

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