Batavia recounts the story of a Dutch East India Company ship bound for Java which was shipwrecked off the west Australian coast in 1629; while some of the survivors set off for Java in search of food, water and rescue, there was wholesale rape and mass murder among those left behind in what has been called history's bloodiest mutiny. The production depicts onstage one rape and the murder of two children.
"The story is about the uncivilising of people," Opera Australia chief executive Adrian Collette stressed to the Herald. "We think this is a faithful representation of the operatic text. The violence in the story has to be depicted for it to make sense as a work of art."
Batavia was commissioned by Opera Australia and the Melbourne Festival for the 2001 celebration of the country's centennial as a federation; it was revived at the Perth International Arts Festival in 2004. Critical reception has been unusually warm for a new Australian opera: it won three Helpmann Awards (Australia's equivalent of the Oliviers); the Herald wrote that Mills "mobilises his generous vocal and instrumental forces with a sure hand"; andante.com suggested that the work might fairly be called the first Great Australian Opera.