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Elite girls’ school votes to dump John Batman from house name

Suzan Delibasic, October 19, 2021 6:00PM Kids News

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John Batman is depicted negotiating what is known as the Batman Treaty with the Kulin people in 1835. The treaty saw the Indigenous people hand over land for the foundation of Melbourne. media_cameraJohn Batman is depicted negotiating what is known as the Batman Treaty with the Kulin people in 1835. The treaty saw the Indigenous people hand over land for the foundation of Melbourne.

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An elite girls’ school has voted to drop the name of one of its houses that was named after Melbourne founder John Batman.

Melbourne Girls Grammar students in years 4 to 12, and all past students, were invited to vote earlier this month on whether to rename Batman House.

In a statement on its website, the school said: “An overwhelming majority of students and Old Grammarians told us they were in favour of changing the name of the Batman House.

“The result of the Batman referendum* was quite clear. This was reflected in the votes from our current and our past students who represent many generations of alumnae*.”

The vote was held after school captains last year made a presentation to the school council, questioning “whether in a contemporary* 21st century setting, Batman was an appropriate name”.

Melbourne Girls Grammar media_cameraMelbourne Girls Grammar in the Melbourne suburb of South Yarra has hosted a vote on whether to change the name of its Batman house. Picture: Ellen Smith

The students put forward the idea that “John Batman was not only the broker* of the notorious* Batman Treaty but a participant in the Tasmanian ‘Black Wars’, which culminated* in the murder of more than 1000 Aboriginal people.”

The school’s statement also said: “They also made the case that the other House names of Hensley and Taylor (our first principals), Mungo (after the original site of the School, St Mungo in Domain Rd), and Clarke (after Melbourne Archbishop Lowther Clarke, responsible for promoting and funding Anglican girls’ education) were closely tied to the school. Batman by contrast, seemed the ‘odd man’ out.”

16/08/2004 PIRATE: Undated. John Batman, an early settler of Melbourne. State Library of Victoria. media_cameraAn illustration of John Batman who founded Melbourne. Picture: State Library of Victoria

The Victorian school’s principal, Dr Toni Meath, sent a letter to students and parents on September 12 saying: “I know these issues are sometimes more complex than they appear, particularly when dealing with historical legacy*; however, student voice is a pillar* of MGGS and the conversation has been continued within the student body.

“Scholars of representations of Australian history often refer to ‘moral moments’ that occur at different points in time, perhaps now is one of those.”

Last year, another Victorian school, Northcote High School, also dumped John Batman’s name from one of its school houses in favour of Indigenous leader and activist William Cooper.

In 2019, Box Hill High students called to ditch their house names, including Batman and Mawson, in favour of modern leaders like Kerryn Phelps, Anh Do, Fred Hollows and Dylan Alcott.

Yarra City Council, a council in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, last year proposed to do a comprehensive* audit* of monuments, statues and places in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests.

Who was John Batman?

John Batman was born in Rosehill, NSW, on January 21, 1801.

He is one of Melbourne’s founders, but his name is synonymous* with Indigenous land dispossession* after the explorer convinced Indigenous elders to sign a treaty* trading more than 200,000ha of ancestral land* for blankets, flour and other goods in 1835.

In recent years, there has been strong public criticism of Batman over links to the massacre of Tasmanian Aborigines.

He died on May 6, 1839, aged 38.

Victoria and its Metropolis history book  1835 John Batman on the Yarra 'this shall be the place for a village' Picture: Ferguson Glenn media_cameraA drawing of John Batman on the Yarra River in 1835. Batman is thought to have said “this shall be the place for a village” before negotiating a treaty with the local Aboriginal people for the land on which to build Melbourne. Picture: Ferguson Glenn

Where else has his name been removed?

2020 – Northcote High School also dumped John Batman’s name from one of its school houses in favour of Indigenous leader William Cooper.
2019 – Box Hill High students called to ditch their house names, including Batman and Mawson, in favour of modern leaders.
2018 – Vandals smashed up the iconic entrance to Batman Park in Northcote in an apparent protest over Australia Day.
2018 – The federal electorate of Batman was abolished* and renamed the Division of Cooper after Indigenous political activist* William Cooper.
2017 – Batman Park in Northcote was renamed Gumbri Park after the Wurundjeri Council endorsed a name change.

GLOSSARY

  • referendum: a vote where people are asked to decide an important question or issue
  • alumnae: a female former student of a particular school, college, or university
  • contemporary: modern, happening now
  • broker: person who arranges or negotiates
  • notorious: famous for doing something bad
  • culminated: reached a final result
  • historical legacy: something that is left from the past, or the result of a past event
  • pillar: very important part
  • comprehensive: thorough, including all aspects or elements
  • audit: official inspection
  • synonymous: closely associated with
  • dispossession: the act of taking someone’s property
  • treaty: a formal agreement between two parties
  • ancestral land: land belonging to or inherited from ancestors
  • abolished: formally put to an end
  • activist: a person who works to bring about political or social change

EXTRA READING

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Exploring the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival

Digging up the historical past beneath our cities

Why are there big protests around the world?

Around an Aussie campfire of statues

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Which city was founded by John Batman?
  2. Which school held the vote on changing the name of its Batman house?
  3. Who is Dr Toni Meath?
  4. Which other Victorian school dumped John Batman’s name from one of its houses?
  5. The federal electorate of Batman was renamed after which Indigenous leader in 2018?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. William Cooper
In two instances noted in this news story, John Batman’s name has been replaced by William Cooper’s. Research and read about William Cooper and then write approximately half a page, telling who he was and his noteworthy achievements.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures

2. Extension
Write or make a recording to answer the following questions:

  • What are the names of your school’s houses?
  • What does each name represent?
  • If you had the choice to keep your school’s house names or change them, what would you do and why?

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English

VCOP ACTIVITY
Aside from this, there is also this!
Brackets are a great literacy tool for adding aside comments, or comments that could be covered over and the sentence still makes sense. What’s inside the brackets is extra information.

They can be used for a variety of effects: to add more detail, to add humour, to connect with the reader etc. My little brother, (the funniest kid I know) got himself into big trouble today.

Select three sentences from the article to add an aside comment to using brackets. Think about not only what you want to add to the sentence, but also what effect you are trying to create.

Extra Reading in history