Treaty, Sale or Tanderum?
Batman's treaty with the Kulin Aborigines of the Port Phillip Bay region may well have been a misunderstanding. Although the treaty transaction was understood by the colonists as a kind of sale, the Aborigines probably thought that their actions betokened merely their hospitality towards temporary guests.
Most colonists, then and later, ridiculed the treaties on the ground that Australian Aborigines had no chiefs. Few tried to discover what Batman's negotiation had meant to the Kulin. The terms of the written treaties were fraudulent in that the Woiworung, Bunurong and Wathaurung men with whom Batman dealt could not have understood that the words 'Give, Grant, and Confirm unto the said John Batman, his Heirs and Assigns' meant a sale of their clan territories. Such an abdication of religious and other responsibilities was quite literally unthinkable to the Kulin.
The men Batman met perceived his intentions in Kulin terms - strongly developed concepts of sharing rights in, and use of, territory - the Tanderum ceremony. This ceremony was a formal procedure whereby approved strangers were guaranteed the host clan's protection as well as giving and receiving allegiance and access to each other's resources. By handing their guest's token portions of foliage, water and available foods of their estate the owners signified [in the words of R.Brough Smyth, 'The Aborigines of Victoria 1878', volume 1 pp134-5] 'that as long as they are friendly, and under such restrictions as their laws impose, they and their children may come there again without fear of molestation; the presents of boughs and leaves and grass are meant to show that these are theirs when they like to use them.' The names and boundaries recorded on Batman's treaties confirm that he concluded an alliance with representative leaders of this region. But he misinterpreted the meaning of the Tanderum ritual they performed.
Keywords: Batman, John, coexistence, culture, Kulin nation, Port Phillip Association, trade, treaties, 1835
Barwick, Laura and Richard (eds), Barwick, D 1998, 'Rebellion at Corranderk', Aboriginal History Monograph 5, Aboriginal History Inc pp 23-4.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor
Source: Barwick, D