An interesting find was made by workers clearing undergrowth and willow trees from the banks of the Merri Creek in mid-July. A 45 square centimetre concrete block was found during works by the City of Darebin which now incorporates Northcote. The top of the white painted block has four upright steel bolts and a coating of glue which indicate it had been used as the base for a plaque.
Darebin Council, realising the significance of their find, notified local historians and an article appeared in the "Northcote Leader" newspaper on Wednesday 21 July 2004. Rex Harcourt, author of "Southern Invasion - Northern Conquest" and a Northcote resident was quoted as saying "In times gone by, the Northcote Council knew a plaque had been placed on the banks of the Merri Creek (to mark the treaty signing site) but after many searches in the 1950's and 1960's they were unable to locate it. This object is, in all probability, the base for the plaque the council was looking for."
The plaque site is located beside the creek near the end of Cunningham Street, Northcote. It is a short distance upstream, and on the opposite side of the Merri Creek, from Rushall Railway Station. This is the area where Chief Billibellary (Jika Jika) is said to have lived. It is also the area where John Pascoe Fawkner said the treaty had been signed when he wrote a letter in 1862 to "The Age", a Melbourne newspaper.
Amateur historian Fred Bruton of East Brighton believes that an 1857 painting by John Wesley Burtt is an accurate representation of the treaty negotiations of 6 June 1835. It was said to have been accompanied with testimonials from those with first hand knowledge of the event that details and location were correct. This painting hung in the Northcote Town Hall until 1932 when it was moved to the State Library of Victoria.
The entry in John Batman's journal for 6 June 1835 says, in part, "This (treaty signing) took place alongside of a beautiful stream of water, and from whence my land commences, and where a tree is marked four ways to know the corner boundary. The country about here exceeds anything I ever saw, both for grass and richness of soil. The timber light, and consists of sheoak and small gum, with a few wattle." Local folklore tells of such a tree with Aboriginal markings on it which grew on the banks of the Merri Creek until it was uprooted by floodwaters and washed away. This tree is said to appear in John Burtt's 1857 painting. Rex Harcourt has a mounted section of a tree, believed to be from this "Batman Tree". He retrieved it from a Doncaster garage some years ago though it was said to have been previously kept at the Northcote Town Hall.
A report about the finding of the concrete block was also shown on television on ATV 10's five o'clock News on Wednesday 28 July 2004. In addition to showing scenes of the find at Merri Creek their report linked this story to another about a memorial to John Batman which has disappeared from the footpath in Flinders Street. This memorial was a large pink coloured block with golden metallic lettering set into the footpath outside the Old Customs House (now the Immigration Museum) near the corner of William Street.
A further report in the "Northcote Leader" of Wednesday 28 July 2004 contained a counter claim by amateur historian Merv Lia that John Batman's treaty with local Aborigines was signed at Edgar's Creek near Westgarthtown, between Thomastown and Lalor. He bases his opinion on his own experience as a bushwalker and his interpretation of Batman's journal. The report also quoted a number of other experts who either believed that the evidence in favour of the Northcote site was not conclusive or who favoured some other site.
Publicity about the above find was very likely the reason for a significant increase in the number of people viewing the Port Phillip Pioneers Group's website at the end of July.
Contributed by Alexander Romanov-Hughes ( PPPG Member No. 52 )
A badly-cracked Aboriginal scar tree in a Northcote front yard is a vital clue to where the Batman treaty was signed and must be preserved, says a historian. "This scar tree (in McLachlan Street) on the Merri Creek indicates it was a significant location in Aboriginal terms and pretty much puts the lid on the argument that the treaty was signed there," Rex Harcourt said. "I had a good look at the tree last week and it is cracked, and the scar has wet soil in it - it's likely to come crashing down if it does not get urgent attention."
Made in 1835, the treaty gave John Batman, known as Melbourne's founder, access to about 200,000 hectares of land in exchange for items such as blankets and trinkets. It was never accepted by the authorities in Sydney. Mr. Harcourt said he had written to the National Museum and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs asking that the dead tree be evaluated. He said a significant part of it should be preserved and moved closer to the Merri Creek with a plaque added. Mr. Harcourt, author of "Southern Invasion, Northern Conquest", about Melbourne's founding, said he only recently became aware of the tree's existence from Wurundjeri elder Ian Hunter.
Mr. Hunter said his grandmother Martha Nevin told stories about his great-great-great-grandfather Jerum-Jerum, one of three senior tribal elders at the treaty signing. "Nanna pointed out the scar tree and said 'That's where it happened'," Mr. Hunter said. Scar trees result from removing bark to make such items as shields and canoes. Mr. Harcourt and Mr. Hunter agree the Batman Treaty was signed on the Merri Creek near where McLachlan and Walker streets meet. The exact site has been controversial for more than a century.
Preston historian Merv Lia said the site marked by the scar tree in McLachlan Street was an important Aboriginal camp where chiefs gathered and corroborrees were held but "no one will ever be really sure where the treaty was signed."
"Too many people wrote about it too long after the event," Mr. Lia said.
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