In 1997 City of Melbourne commissioned ‘The Lie of the Land’ as a gift to the people of Melbourne. Created by artists Chris Knowles and Fiona Foley it represents the words from John Batman’s journal of his purchase of the land, which is now Melbourne, from the indigenous people, the Wurundjeri, of Australia.
From John Batman’s journal, “After a full explanation of what my object was, I purchased two large tracts of land from them – about 600,000 acres, more or less, and delivered over to them blankets, knives, looking glasses, tomahawks, beads, scissors, flour, etc. etc. as payment for the land, and also agreed to give them a tribute, or rent, yearly.”
The Lie of the Land consists of seven huge sandstone pillars in a line. Each is inscribed with the objects used to ‘purchase’ the land. Blankets, Flour, Knives,
Beads, Scissors, Tomahawks and Glasses.
I asked my boys to get out-of-the-way for that picture. They ducked and shouted, ‘Take it now, no one will notice us!”
The Wurundjeri did not believe in land ownership, rather they belong to the land. They were connected spiritually to the land, and would not have sold it to John Batman as he described in his journal. It is doubtful he even gave a ‘full explanation of what my object was’, as his translators were from a different tribe, speaking a different dialect.