In 1835, John Batman sailed from Tasmania to Port Phillip, where he famously made the famous statement, “This is going to be the place for a village.” In what became known as the Batman Treaty, he also persuaded a group of local Native leaders to sell him 240,000 acres of prime farmland in exchange for a few commodities, including blankets, tomahawks, scissors, handkerchiefs, and flour.
The treaty was soon annulled by NSW Governor Richard Bourke, who declared the British Crown – as the sole “owners” of Australia – the only entity that could sell or distribute land. The treaty has also been widely discredited by historians, who rightly point out that it is inconceivable that the native leaders Batman negotiated with would have fully understood the European idea of land tenure and legal contracts.
Nearly 200 years later, although there has been much negotiation over land ownership since the Land Rights Act in 1976 and the Mabo decision of the Supreme Court, there has never been any negotiation between a First Nations people and an Australian government at any level. also. We are the only nation in the Commonwealth that has never made such a deal.
That’s why Thursday’s passing of a bill establishing a Treaty Authority by the lower house of the Victorian Parliament was such a historic moment, not just for the state, but for the nation. Under the bill, which has yet to go to the Senate, the new authority, made up entirely of First Nations people, would be an independent body responsible for facilitating negotiations and resolving disputes between the government and First Nations. people about a treaty.
Victoria is the only jurisdiction in Australia that has released the resources and legislative framework to begin such negotiations. That process, along with telling the truth, which is facilitated in Victoria by the Yoorrook Justice Commission, were both advocated by the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.
Marcus Stewart, the co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly – the body elected by Native Victorians to bring the treaty authority to life – said the process would be guided by the principles of self-determination and would increase the willingness of the state government. demonstrate to relinquish some of its power and meet First Nations people on neutral territory to begin righting the wrongs of the often violent expropriation by British settlers.
That goes to the heart of this process. When Batman stood on the banks of what many believed to be Merri Creek, in Northcote, where he supposedly convinced a group of local Indigenous leaders to sign a document handing them over the land they had lived on for tens of thousands of years, it was by no means way a transaction involving parties with equal power or appreciation for what happened.
Worse still, the colonial authorities, stuck in their erroneous belief that Australia was “terra nullius” before white colonization, didn’t even pay as much respect as Batman did to the rights of Indigenous leaders.