News / Council

Moreland ‘slavery’ name change to be fast-tracked

Council report says opening up a debate about the merits of a name change would be “divisive”

A sign at the entrance to Moreland in Brunswick.

Mark Phillips
Friday, December 10, 2021

A SPECIAL council meeting on Monday night is set to adopt a fast track process to rename the City of Moreland that will bypass any debate about whether a name change is necessary.

Councilors will be advised to endorse a plan that will to begin consultation about a name change in February with the aim of bedding in the new name by the end of 2022.

In a report co-authored by chief executive officer Cathy Henderson for Monday’s meeting, councilors will be told that they have no real alternative but to change the municipality’s name because of its associations to 18th and 19th century slavery.

The report says opening up a debate about whether that historical connection merits a name change would be “divisive, hurtful, and unnecessary”.

Renaming the municipality has become an urgent priority after the current council was made aware last month that the name was derived from a sugar plantation in Jamaica that used slave labour.

Mayor Mark Riley is understood to be keen to get started as soon as possible.

“We will be taking the matter very, very seriously, and we will also be taking our commitment to community diversity and opposing racism very seriously,” Cr Riley said in response to a question from the public at Wednesday night’s council meeting.

But at least one councilor has questioned whether changing the city’s name should be a priority at a time when the council’s budget was tight.

In an interview on Sky News, Cr Oscar Yildiz described the push to change the name as “ridiculous” and the result of a “Greens agenda”.

The push for a name change gained impetus after evidence was provided to the newly-elected Cr Riley last month to show that an early colonial settler, Farquhar McCrae, adopted the name Moreland for a large tract of land he bought in 1839 because his forebears had for some years operated the Jamaican slave estate with the same moniker.

The Moreland plantation estate operated in southern Jamaica and was active between 1783-1887. Its business included sugar, rum and slave trading, with 500–700 slaves there in any one year.

Representatives of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation (WWCHAC) met with Cr Riley and Ms Henderson on November 19 to show not only how the name was connected to slavery, but how rapid European settlement of the area now known as Moreland in the 1840s had dispossessed and decimated the Aboriginal population.

Although the name’s connotations with slavery were publicly raised at the time the City Moreland was created from the amalgamation of the councils of Brunswick and Coburg in the mid-1990s, it had been mostly forgotten until the launch of the new campaign.

In October, the council signed statement of commitment to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and other Aboriginal people to pursue a treaty and to rename places in Moreland with traditional names, but there is no mention of the slavery connection in that document.

Since the launch of the new campaign, more than 1000 people have signed a petition in favour of a name change.

In a public statement last month, Cr Riley said the history behind the naming of the area was “painful, uncomfortable and very wrong” and needed to be addressed.

Related story:

Slavery connection ‘was well known’ in 1990s

In the report for this Monday’s meeting, Ms Henderson and co-author Director Community Development, Eamonn Fennessy, say that the momentum has already moved beyond a debate about whether a change is needed.

They say Moreland had always stood against racism and for diversity and the name change gave the council the opportunity to proactively address harm caused by racism, through truth telling and reconciliation.

“Not changing a known racist name with origins in slave trading does not align with Council or the organisation’s values,” the report says.

“Retaining the name now, with this knowledge, could cause considerable reputational damage to Moreland as a progressive and responsive local government service provider to a diverse multicultural community.

“It also causes reputational damage as a current and potential employer and as an accomplished leader in matters of anti-racism, social cohesion and human rights.”

Council officers are recommending that a process for re-naming the municipality should be co-designed with stakeholders including the WWCHAC and must include community consultation and engagement.

The recommended new name will need to be signed off by the State Government.

Cr Yildiz has flagged he will contest any decision to rename the municipality.

He told Sky News recently that there should be widespread community consultation before proceeding with any proposal to rename Moreland.

“I’ve been on the council for 15 years … and just when you think they can’t find ways to waste ratepayers’ money they come up with this grand scheme of changing the name of the city,” he said.

“This is going to cost in the millions of dollars and the ratepayers I’m speaking to are saying to me, ‘This is ridiculous. What’s wrong with the name? Leave it’.”

According to the report for Monday’s meeting, about $500,000 split over two years will be allocated to rebrand the council with a new name, but this does not include the cost of changing other assets such as household rubbish bins, street and park signs and staff uniforms.