• Michael Mansell, chairman of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council, has welcomed the council's motion. (Sarah Maunder)Source: Sarah Maunder
The Batman Bridge was named for John Batman, a colonialist who murdered Aboriginal men, women and children.
By
Sarah Maunder

Source:
NITV News
8 Apr 2021 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 8 Apr 2021 - 4:51 PM

The Launceston City Council has voted to appeal to the Tasmanian Government to change the name of the Batman Bridge. 

Chairman of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council and trawlwoolway man Michael Mansell told NITV he was happy with the Launceston City Council’s decision.

“Good on them,” he said. 

“Well done Launceston City Council, because a local government that is as big as the Hobart City Council, or the Launceston City Council, any decision they make in this context would be very difficult for whoever forms government in May to ignore.

“You can almost feel that the change is taking place, and it’s being led by local government, and major governments are going to have to follow.”

The Batman Bridge is located north-east of Launceston, crossing the kanamaluka/Tamar River, and is named after John Batman, a Launceston businessman and founder of Melbourne. 

The Launceston Council meeting agenda noted that historical records show John Batman was directly responsible for the deaths of Tasmanian Aboriginal men, women, and children. 

An electorate in Melbourne was named after Batman, but the electorate was renamed "Cooper" in 2019 after William Cooper, an Aboriginal community leader and activist. 

 

Launceston City Councillor Tim Walker put forward the motion asking the council to acknowledge that the name of the bridge is inappropriate, and to write to the state government to request it begins a renaming process. 

The Batman Bridge is not located in the City of Launceston; either side of the bridge lies the George Town Council, and the Tamar City Council, and is a state government-owned asset. 

During the Launceston Council meeting on Thursday, Councillor Walker said both the Labor and Liberal Parties in Tasmania indicated they were open to changing the name of the bridge. 

“When we name a bridge, we usually do it in honour of someone. (Batman’s) name should never have been used,” Councillor Walker said.

A Tasmanian state election will be held on May 1. Two weeks ago, the Labor Opposition leader Rebecca White said she had “an open mind” about changing the name of the bridge. 

“I do understand why some people might have concerns about names of pieces of infrastructure like that and I think that’s a conversation as a community that we need to have if we are going to be telling the truth about Tasmania’s history and that is a really important part of a pathway to a treaty with our First Nations people,” she said. 

NITV contacted the Tasmanian Liberal Party for comment, but a response was not received before the article deadline.

'When you get a bridge named after such a dishonourable, despicable man as that, why worry about process?'

Councillor Hugh McKenzie was one of the councillors who voted against motion.

He agreed the name of the bridge needed to be changed, but said he would prefer to support a process that changed the name of a number of locations or structures around Tasmania that were named after inappropriate historical figures. 

“I have no problem with the name being changed, but I don’t believe that is our role here today,” Councillor McKenzie said. 

But Mr Mansell said arguing over the process was pointless.

“Why pontificate over this sort of stuff? If the Aboriginal community makes the point that John Batman was a racist, murdering mongrel, who saw the campfires of Aboriginal people about 20 miles from where he lived, and he, with a group of armed men waited until those people were asleep before he shot them … when you get a bridge named after such a dishonourable, despicable man as that, why worry about process?”

Launceston City Councillor Paul Spencer voted in favour of the motion, admitting that he didn’t know much about John Batman, and read about 50 pages of historical documents before casting his vote at the meeting. 

“I was horrified by what I read (about Batman) 

“He was a rogue, a murderer, untrustworthy and a liar.”

On March 23 the George Town Council, located north of the Launceston Council, wrote to the Launceston City Council and the West Tamar Council asking for support to erect an art sculpture and plaque at the Batman Bridge, commemorating the leetermairremener people.

But Councillor Tim Walker said that proposal needed to be challenged.

“I am sure it is well-meaning, but to put it next to a bridge named after Batman is to rub salt in significant wounds.”

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