John Batman was a Tasmanian who organised a syndicate of investors to fund him and some other settlers to build a new village on the banks of the Yarra River. Of course, this land was already occupied by the tribes of the Kulin nation, primarily the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung, each of which greatly outnumbered the small group of settlers Batman led. Thus, Batman made a deal with the chiefs of the Wurundjeri, purchasing a small stretch of land. In time, the village would become Melbourne (today a metropolis of more than four million people, very few of them members of the Wurundjeri or other Kulin peoples).
However, there are many grounds on which to dispute Batman’s treaty. It is a matter of some dispute whether the tribesmen Batman dealt with understood the deal they were making in the same way Batman did – among the Kulin people, as among most Australian Aboriginal peoples, land was not owned by individuals in the same way it was by Europeans. Legally, even by the standards of colonial empires, Batman was also on shaky ground, as he had no authority from the Crown to make such a deal. And while it does appear that, at least to start with, the colonists made efforts to deal in good faith with the various Kulin peoples, misunderstandings were inevitable between two such disparate peoples, leading to bloodshed on several occasions. Later colonists, who were not party to the original deal, treated the Kulin (and in time, the other native peoples of Victoria) much worse. Batman, like so many of the natives, was dead by then.
It was on his first voyage of discovery that Captain James Cook’s ship the Endeavour, sighted the eastern coast of Australia. A man aloft in the crows nest, one Lieutenant Zachary Hickes, made the first sighting, which Cook repaid by naming Point Hicks (spelling was not, apparently, one of Cook’s many talents). But although they saw evidence of the natives of this new land – the smoke of numerous campfires, mostly – it was not until four days later that first contact was made between the Englishmen and Australian Natives. (Specifically, members of the Gweagal people, who dwelt on the shores of Botany Bay around modern Kurnell.)
Perhaps setting a template for future interactions between blacks and whites in Australia, the contact was hostile, although no one was killed. The scientists on the crew, Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, gathered specimens, primarily botanical (hence the name given to the bay where they landed), to take back to England. Cook and his crew continued on their way after spending a week or so in Botany Bay, taking home news that would eventually spell the doom of the Gweagal and a great many of their relatives.
In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, with an increasing amount of evidence supporting the earliest date. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.