News / Council

City on track for new name within three months

The future name of Moreland will be drawn from local Indigenous language

Mark Phillips
UPDATED: Thursday, March 10, 2022

THE City of Moreland will have a new Indigenous name before the end of June under a timeline endorsed by the council on Wednesday night.

The renaming process will ensure that the municipality is renamed in the language of the traditional occupants of the area, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people.

Moreland residents and ratepayers will be provided with an opportunity for feedback, but the new name will be decided without a community plebiscite or referendum.

A short list of traditional language names is being prepared by the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, the organisation which first raised concerns about historical slavery links to the name of Moreland late last year.

The council has no legal obligation to consult the community about the name change but will use it as an opportunity for education about the area’s history of Indigenous dispossession and genocide.

Councillors voted 7-3 on Wednesday to adopt a recommended eight-week community engagement program for the renaming of the city.

Mayor Mark Riley said the renaming of Moreland would provide a forum for truth telling and reconciliation with the area’s traditional owners.

A special council meeting will be held this month to receive the shortlist of names, and the process will then start with a survey to be letterboxed throughout the municipality.

Consultation will be held from March 18 to May 15, with a strong emphasis on educating the present-day community about why renaming Moreland will contribute towards reconciliation and healing with First Nations peoples.

Another special council meeting in June will decide on the recommended new name that will be put forward to the Minister for Local Government, Shaun Leane, for final approval.

Mr Leane has already indicated he will support whatever decision is taken by the council.

The renaming of the city has become an urgent priority since new evidence emerged in November showing how the name derived from a Jamaican sugar plantation that used slave labour in the 18th and 19th century.

A European settler, Farquhar McCrae, gained possession of a large area of land between Moonee Ponds Creek and Sydney Road in 1839 and named it Moreland in homage to the Jamaican slave estate that had been managed by his family.

The land was sold without the permission of its traditional owners, who had been forcibly removed.

The slavery connections had been publicly known when the Kennett Government adopted the name Moreland for the new municipality formed from the amalgamation of the cities of Brunswick and Coburg in 1994. But over the subsequent decades, the links had been forgotten and current councillors said they were unaware of the origins of the name.

Moreland council voted 6-3 in December to go ahead with the name change and allocated $500,000 over two years to cover costs of rebranding council websites and significant signage.

Since then, a small group representing the council, including Mayor Mark Riley and Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos, have met several times with Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung elders to develop a community engagement approach for the renaming.

Concerns were raised at Wednesday night’s council meeting about the cost of the renaming and the extent of community consultation.

Cr Helen Pavlidis said the ultimate cost would be far in excess of the $500,000 budget.

“I’m left wondering in a rate-capped environment and responding to our community during a pandemic whether this is the most appropriate use of our scarce council resources,” she said.

Council chief executive officer Cathy Henderson said she was confident all “big ticket items” would cost no more than $500,000 over two years, and other costs could be met within existing budgets.

Cr Helen Davidson said she could not endorse the renaming process because there had been no consultation with the city’s residents about whether the city’s name needed to be changed at all.

“Saying we’re now consulting with the community isn’t telling the truth,” she said.

“This is a monumental change and despite the challenge it may present, community consultation is important and shouldn’t be stifled out. The whole of Moreland community should be asked if the name change is supported or not.”

Cr Riley said there would be plenty of opportunities for comments and feedback from the community over the next few months and he personally was very committed to the name change.

“I think we have a duty of care to people who were affected 183 or so years ago when the dispossession occurred and they weren’t able to get food or hunt or drink water on their land because those lands were taken [from them],” he said.

The working group will meet to consider all feedback in late May, and the final decision about the new name will be made at a special council meeting on June 1.

This article was updated from an earlier version published on Monday, March 7, with the outcome of the council meeting.

Read more:

Slavery connection ‘was well known’ in 1990s