The real Australian Batman

Let us play associations for a moment: I say Adam, you say Eve. I say Antony, you say Cleopatra. I say Steptoe, you say Son. There’s a certain pattern, even a logic to it, isn’t there? All right, then, to continue: I say Bass, you say Flinders. I say Batman, you say Fawkner.

You say whatŠ!?

All right, many will respond Robin and, because I’ve set no rules for the game, be right. Several Tasmanians, though, and perhaps even a few Victorians will respond Fawkner. So, then, who is this Fawkner and what is the association?

Well, for a start, I must tell you about Batman. In this instance, he was the entrepreneurial farmer and adventurer, John Batman.


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The English landed in January 1788, establishing the colony of New South Wales. Tasmania was the next state formally settled, with their arrival in September 1803 to establish Hobart.

Launceston was settled in 1806. Within a year, there was a state of anarchy in the area and many of the settlers Œwent bush. Slowly, order was regained and white settlement stabilised. One of those who saw opportunity in the area was a young man born at Sydney Cove in 1801, John Batman, who moved there in 1821. He started off with leasehold land and contracted to supply meat to government stores.

Batman succeeded with his project before moving to a 600-acre grant named Kingston in the foothills of Ben Lomond. He met a waif named Eliza Thompson; they wed in 1828 and produced eight children. Batman worked hard and well but the land was poor and unable to carry much stock. Responsible for the arrest of the bushranger Matthew Brady and other good civic work, as well as his good general acceptance in the community, he was able to expand to some 7000 acres. Even then, Kingston was unable to sustain the production he wanted.

Tasmania was heavily grazed but unable to meet its increasing needs, so a group of farmers approached the government seeking approval to settle on Port Philip Bay on the other side of Bass Strait. This was not granted but Batman sailed in May 1835 and established a treaty with Victorian tribes for 600,000 acres – what is now the Bellarine Peninsula, plus the coastal strip as far as the Yarra, at which point he noted Œa place for a village and chose a site on which to build his own home. He even mentioned a running stream of clear, fresh water (yes, folk, the Yarra!) On return to Tasmania in June, the press named him Œthe greatest landowner in the world.

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It took almost a year to wind up his affairs at Kingston. In April 1836, with his wife and children, he sailed once more across the Strait, ready to settle on the gentle slope he¹d chosen for settlement. But it was not to be so straightforward. A complication had arisen.

It is now, two-thirds of the way through, we finally get to meet Fawkner!

John Pascoe Fawkner had sailed from the Tamar with a view to improving his prospects. When Batman arrived, Fawkner had not only perched in the very spot chosen by Batman, he and his men had much of the area ploughed and sown to crop! Thus did Batman step ashore, not in triumph as planned but in chagrin. This was the start of a bitter rivalry between the two men who were effectively the fathers of Melbourne. There is discussion to this day which of the men was the true forefather: Fawkner could rightly say he was first to settle; Batman was able to counter that, a year earlier, he¹d done essential groundwork in establishing a land treaty.

Batman moved across the other side of the Yarra and established himself on land that would become, a century later, the Spencer Street rail yards (now Southern Cross). Their first home was rushed and somewhat too small. As time went by, Batman began a more substantial two-story home on the corner of Collins and William Streets. He died of Œa chill in 1839, still a young man. The home was never finished; Eliza lost both it and the right to her original home. She did not long survive her husband.

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Although avowed enemies, the names of John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner are permanently linked in the establishment of Melbourne. Keep that in mind next time you’re at a pub quiz and are asked, “Batman and Š?” You may be judged wrong, but you will know otherwise.


A brief footnote:

Batman, although generally well regarded by authorities and others around him, had at least one detractor other than Fawkner. His Tasmanian neighbor, the well-known colonial artist, John Glover, had this to say of him: “(Batman is) a rogue, thief, cheat and liar, a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known”.