It’s all in the name: behind Cooper’s name change

A plaque at the Aborigines Advancement League recognizing William Cooper as a founder. Photo: Aisling OMahony, Kate Pantelidis, Stephanie Arturi

A plaque at the Aborigines Advancement League recognizing William Cooper as a founder. Photo: Aisling O’Mahony, Kate Pantelidis, Stephanie Arturi

The northern suburbs electorate formerly known as Batman will be known as Cooper starting with the 2019 Federal Election. The change comes after reports that John Batman was involved in the massacre of Aboriginal people in Tasmania. The new name honours William Cooper who was an Indigenous activist, and founder of the Aborigines Advancement League.

Melbourne’s northern suburbs have been fighting to erase the Batman name over the past few years.

The name has been removed from Batman Park in Northcote (which will be renamed Gumbri Park) and there is a petition to change the name of Batman station in Coburg North.

Perhaps the most relevant name change in the wake of the federal election is that of the former electorate of Batman, now called Cooper after the Aboriginal activist and Yorta Yorta elder.

Batman’s expedition of the Port Phillip Bay area with John Fawkner led to a small settlement which grew into the city we know as Melbourne today.

Batman negotiated with local Aboriginal people to acquire land in the area, by offering food, tools and blankets in exchange for thousands of hectares of land.

This treaty was not recognised by the colonial NSW government, as it went against the practice of the time of deeming land to be “terra nullius” (“land belonging to no one”) and ripe for the picking.

However, it has since been revealed that Batman’s attitude to Aboriginal people was not always so honourable.

Prior to the establishment of Melbourne, Batman was “a murderer of blacks and the vilest man I have ever known” according to John Glover, his neighbour.

Batman was a member and leader of the ‘Black Line’, a group whose goal was to round up all surviving Aboriginal people in Tasmania using roving parties.

It is this cruel legacy that led to calls for the removal of the Batman name, in opposition to the honouring of a man who committed such heinous crimes.

One such campaign was lead by the Darebin Council.

“This council decided that John Batman was not someone that should be recognised with the name of an electorate or the name of a local park because of the atrocities he committed in Tasmania,” said Darebin Mayor, Councillor Susan Rennie.

“What does it say about this country when someone with that kind of track record can have something named after him?”.

Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers has said the decision to change the name of the Batman electorate was unanimous.

Various names were put forward for consideration, many of which honoured Aboriginal people or words.

Cooper was chosen to recognise William Cooper, an activist, elder, and founder of the Aborigines Advancement League.

“To be named after William Cooper, it’s an amazing thing to happen for our community,” Aunty Esme Bamblett, the current CEO of the League, says.

“It’s about legacy and about pride for us, and because the majority of our peak Aboriginal organisations are in the electorate.”

There was very little objection to the name change, demonstrating the wishes of the electorate.

The support for the name change suggests it is a step in the right direction for the recognition of Australia’s first people and paves the way for other similar changes.