Moreland to become Merri-bek, as council throws off name’s ties to slavery

Moreland City Council will propose changing its name to Merri-bek, ending the inner-north authority’s 28-year association with a Jamaican sugar plantation that used slave labour.

The council said on Wednesday that residents clearly backed Merri-bek – meaning “rocky country” in the local Wurundjeri language – in an online poll, with 59 per cent in favour.

A bark featuring three proposed names for the council.Credit:First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria

The council, taking in suburbs including Brunswick, Coburg, Fawkner, Glenroy and Pascoe Vale, committed to change its name last year after it became aware of its links to slavery.

Other possible new names Indigenous elders put forward were Jerrang (“leaf of tree”), which 22 per cent of the 6315 votes supported, and Wa-dum-buk (“renew”), which attracted 16 per cent.

Greens mayor Mark Riley said it was the biggest response the council had received to community engagement, which endorsed its decision to drop the Moreland name.

“We’ve only had it for 27 or 28 years, so there’s not a strong attachment to it. Clearly, the survey results indicate that people are willing to embrace a new Indigenous name for our city,” Riley said.

Moreland City Council will change its name after discovering links to a Jamaican slave plantation.Credit:Jason South

“This is just one name we’re replacing to address the wrongs of the past and to try and build up a relationship with the Wurundjeri that’s actually based on respect.”

The council will share its name with the Merri Creek. Riley said councillors were expected to endorse the new name at a meeting on Sunday. It will then be put to Local Government Minister Melissa Horne for consideration and finally approval by the governor.

Riley said he hoped the council would have officially adopted the new name by late September. Changing major signage on town halls, libraries and other council buildings would take another year or two, he said, with a budget of $500,000 over two years for the task.

Scotsman settler Farquhar McCrae bought parts of dispossessed Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung land between Moonee Ponds Creek and Sydney Road in 1839 and named it Moreland after his family’s Jamaican sugar plantation, where up to 700 slaves laboured.

Moreland was chosen as the name for the council when the cities of Brunswick, Coburg and parts of Broadmeadows merged in 1994 in council amalgamations under former premier Jeff Kennet.

“We really wanted to be inclusive and not have a name that was associated with dispossession – the Wurundjeri didn’t get a penny for that land,” Riley said.

Uncle Andrew Gardiner, deputy chair of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, said the name change could act as a catalyst for improved community understanding.

“It acknowledges that the community wants to change the name away from what it is now associated with and move on to something that brings people together,” he said.

Not all Moreland councillors have supported the move, with independent Oscar Yildiz saying it was a poor use of funds and the council should have consulted the community on whether it wanted the change, rather than just on which new name to adopt.

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