Renaming our city is reconciliation in action

There has been overwhelming support for the process involved in choosing a new name for Moreland, writes Mayor Mark Riley
Monday, August 15, 2022

I LOVE our Moreland community and I believe the overwhelming majority of our community expect that our council will take steps towards reconciliation with First Nations people.

Embracing a Woi-wurrung name is part of council’s commitment to walking together with the Traditional Owners, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Elders.

The name of Moreland City Council has been around for less than 30 years. It’s a name that was given to our municipality by the Kennett Government in the 1990s when the State Government merged the Brunswick and Coburg councils with parts of Broadmeadows.

Moreland was the name of a local property acquired and owned in the 1830s by Farquhar McCrae.

Last November, council received a letter from Elders of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people.

That letter told us that the local property called Moreland was originally named after a slave plantation McCrae’s family operated in Jamaica, with hundreds of slaves. This name is also associated with the rapid dispossession of land experienced by Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people from the late 1830s in the area now known as Moreland.

Once the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Elders wrote to council and pointed this out, and asked us to change the name, there was no other choice for council than to embark on a process for change.

We saw this as an opportunity to give our multicultural community a name we can all be proud of. An opportunity to continue the long path towards understanding and healing and reconciliation.

We believe the best way to build a just future for our community and country is to begin by confronting the injustices of the past.

We could never consider retaining the name Moreland after we learned of its racist origins.

Back in December we thought the community consultation process on renaming would likely favour names in Indigenous language and that it would also include consideration of other community-nominated options. After much dialogue with the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung elders, it became clear that the best way to take real action towards reconciliation, and to honour our 24-year-old Statement of Commitment to them, is to choose a name in Woi-Wurrung language.

We wanted the community to join us on the journey to choosing a new name – one that would fit the past, present and future of this place we call home.

The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Elders presented us with three beautiful name options to consider as a community. Wa-dam-buk, meaning renew, Merri-bek, meaning rocky country, and Jerrang, meaning leaf of tree.

Each of these names has rich ties with this area we call home, deepening our connection with our cultural history, land and environment.

Every ratepayer, resident and business owner had the opportunity to provide their feedback on the options for names during the consultation period in May and June.

We wanted as many residents as possible to have their say on a preferred new name for our city.

“The truth is that for those who participated in the consultation process through the survey and through submissions, the numbers were overwhelmingly in support of changing the name to Merri-bek.”

We sent information through the mail to every household in the municipality, to make sure we reached every resident. Information was provided in the seven languages other than English most spoken in Moreland. The consultation process was widely publicised, and Moreland community members participated in record numbers, with 6315 people taking the time to fill out a survey online or in hard copy.

We believe this process is the most engagement we’ve ever had on a Council project. 94% of those who sent in a survey chose one of the three Woi-wurrung names, with 59% of people choosing Merri-bek as their favourite. 6% chose no name.

Those who don’t support the renaming or would prefer a different name were welcome to express their view. The information provided to households during the consultation was crystal clear – residents could choose to “make a written submission in support or in objection to the proposed names or name change”. We received 60 submissions on top of the 6315 surveys. Of those 60 submissions, 43 were unsupportive, 6 were mixed and 11 were supportive.

The truth is that for those who participated in the consultation process through the survey and through submissions, the numbers were overwhelmingly in support of changing the name to Merri-bek.

We have received an overwhelming amount of support from community members who understand why we are taking this step. From university students to older residents, professionals, business owners and young families, and even preschool and primary school kids whose teachers involved them in the process.

Many residents feel a strong connection to Merri-bek, with this land indeed being rocky country. Survey respondents also told us they love the association with the Merri Creek, which flows powerfully through our municipality. One respondent told us rocks represent stability and place, while another said Merri-bek shows respect to the land which owns us and holds us.

Read more:

Over half of community choose the word for ‘rocky country’ as Moreland’s new name.

Over half of community choose the word for ‘rocky country’ as Moreland’s new name.

And while we understand some are concerned about the cost, I can assure the community that we are well-placed to replace significant signage, council’s digital presence and other assets with a budget of $250,000 per year over the next two years. Speculation that a larger budget is needed is simply incorrect.

Everything else that bears the name Moreland will be replaced as it normally would be due to wear and tear over the next decade or more. So, you’ll see street signs and park benches with the Moreland name for years to come. In fact, there are still some park benches around with old branding from the former cities of Brunswick and Coburg.

Our council has a long history of working towards reconciliation. Our Statement of Commitment to the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung is 24-years-old. We support the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the Yoorrook Justice Commission and the Treaty process.

We will continue to work with our newly established First Nations Advisory Committee and the Traditional Owner community to keep moving in this direction.

‘Merri-bek’ has been submitted to the Minister for Local Government for consideration, with final approval by Governor in Council. We hope this process will be completed by October.

I sincerely thank the Wurundjeri Elders and the community for working closely with us on this significant process. What we are doing is a step in the right direction.

Councillor Mark Riley is the Mayor of Moreland City Council.

The Renaming Moreland organisation was invited to contribute an article about its ongoing concerns with the process undertaken by Moreland City Council but did not take up the opportunity. The invitation remains open to the group.