Council says ‘yes’ to changing name in 2022
Dissenting councillors raised concerns about the cost and lack of community consultation
Monday, December 13, 2021
MORELAND council has voted to go ahead with a name change next year after a sometimes heated debate on Monday night.
Councillors voted 6-3 in favour of renaming Moreland in recognition of the current name’s associations with slavery and the dispossession of traditional Aboriginal landowners.
The council did not nominate a preferred new name, but the decision sets in train a process that will begin early in 2022 to rename the city by the end of next year. Local Government Minister Shaun Leane has indicated he will not stand in the way of a council decision to rename the municipality.
Mayor Mark Riley, who moved the motion in favour of the name change, hailed the decision as an important gesture towards healing and reconciliation with the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people who occupied the Brunswick and Coburg area for thousands of years before European colonisation.
“This motion tonight is but one small step in the healing process and goes some small way towards restoring the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and giving them the respect and the rightful link to their land … and tonight we take this significant step to restore them their rightful place in Australia’s cultures by seeking a new name for our city that better respects ‘one community, proudly diverse’ values,” Cr Riley said.
But dissenting councillors raised concerns about a lack of community consultation and the cost for ratepayers associated with changing the name.
Monday night’s special council meeting was called after Cr Riley was shown evidence last month that the name Moreland derived from a Jamaican sugar plantation that used slave labour in the 18th and 19th century.
The slavery connections were known and publicly discussed 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.
But just as compelling for councillors was evidence about the rapid rate of dispossession of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung by early European settlers, including Farquhar McCrae, who bought the large tracts of land that he named Moreland in 1839.
Land taken without consent
The deputy chair of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation (WWCHAC), Andrew Gardiner, told the meeting that the naming of the municipality after a slave plantation in Jamaica was offensive to Aboriginal people.
He said his ancestors’ traditional lands had been taken by force and without their consent in the late 1830s and early 1840s, and they had been reduced to begging for food as a consequence before they were pushed onto missions.
“We have two examples of racism on display here: global slavery and local dispossession,” he said.
“They come together in one word and that is ‘Moreland’ … This name is not fit for the principal civic body representing this diverse and tolerant community.”
Mr Gardiner said that since he and other representatives of the WWCHAC had met with Cr Riley last month, more than 1000 people had signed a petition in favour of a name change.
“Tonight, you as the elected representatives of this community, have before you an important but uncomplicated duty to remedy this insensitive and disrespectful situation,” he said.
“On behalf of the whole community, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, I’m calling on you to make a declaration now that helps in acknowledging the injustice, the raising of awareness, and strengthens the city’s commitment to respectfully moving forward together.”
Cr Riley acknowledged that renaming the city was a momentous decision, but he said it was consistent with the council’s strong record of justice on issues of reconciliation, racism and inclusion.
Changing the name of the city of Moreland won’t mean better rubbish collection services, it won’t fix poorly maintained footpaths and roads, and it won’t create more green space and parklands.
But local government does not exist solely to provide services to ratepayers.
Local government can set an agenda and provide direction to a community, and far-reaching changes in public attitudes often begin at a local level.
Deputy Mayor Lambros Tapinos drew parallels with the treatment of his own Greek forbears in their home country in backing the move to change Moreland’s name.
“If the elders ask me to change the name of the municipality which is only 26-years-old, in the spirit of reconciliation and Treaty I will gladly vote to change this name,” he said.
‘Kick in the guts’
But Cr Oscar Yildiz said now was the wrong time to undergo a financially expensive change when council resources could be spent in other ways which would deliver more benefit to ratepayers.
“I think this is a bit of a kick in the guts for residents doing it a bit tough,” he said.
“Ultimately, the residents are going to foot this bill … We’re in the most challenging times of our life, not only financially but also emotionally and we’ve got better things to worry about as a municipality.”
Cr Helen Davidson said the community had been “blindsided” and she could not vote for a process that was “inherently flawed” to change the name without first holding a plebiscite to determine if there was majority support for doing so.
“This decision is not to be made by 11 people on council, not by the vocal few who have attended council meetings or those with a Twitter account but the whole of Moreland,” she said.
“Every single resident should have their say from the top of Glenroy to the bottom of Brunswick.”
A resolution to adopt in-principle support for a name change was eventually carried 6-3, with independent councilors Yildiz, Davidson and Helen Pavlidis-Mihalakas voting against. Councilors Annalivia Carli Hannan and Milad El-Hilabi were apologies.
A process for selecting a new name will be co-designed with representatives of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung community and formalised in February.
The decision also allocates $500,000 over the next two years towards rebranding council websites and significant signage. The cost of rebranding other assets such as street signs, staff uniforms and vehicles would be met within existing budget allocations.