Information was presented to Council last week by Elders from the Traditional Owner community and other community representatives, showing that Merri-bek was named after land, between Moonee Ponds Creek to Sydney Road, that Farquhar McCrae acquired in 1839. He named the land ‘Moreland’ after a Jamaican slave estate his grandfather had operated.
The land in what is now called the Merri-bek local government area was sold to Farquhar McCrae without the permission of the traditional owners, who were suddenly dispossessed from their land.
In 1994 the local government areas of the City of Brunswick, the City of Merri-bek and part of Broadmeadows were amalgamated and the State Government named the new local government area Merri-bek.
Mayor Cr Mark Riley said: “We are shocked and deeply saddened to learn that 27 years ago, Merri-bek was named after a slave estate. The history behind the naming of this area is painful, uncomfortable and very wrong. It needs to be addressed.
“Moreland stands firmly against racism, we are one community, proudly diverse. Council is committed to working with Wurundjeri people and we take the request very seriously."
Cr Riley said any new name would be developed after a full consultation process with the Merri-bek community and that ultimately, the State Government must make the change. At this stage it’s not proposed to consider renaming of any other features such as schools or roads.
“This important issue aligns with our commitment to reconciliation and human rights. In October 2021, Council signed a Statement of Commitment to Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung People and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities of the City of Merri-bek. This Commitment sets out our vision for reconciliation. It also outlines our support and commitment to a process towards local, regional or national Treaty or Treaties that protect the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,” Cr Riley said.
Council first signed a Statement of Commitment to Indigenous Australians in May 1998 and has continued to look at ways to work together with First Nations communities in Merri-bek. Commitments will be included into the 2021-2024 Merri-bek Human Rights Implementation Plan.
The Merri-bek estate was named after the southern Jamaican plantation McCrae's father and grandfather had operated from 1770-1796. The plantation’s business was sugar, rum and slave trading with 500-700 enslaved people there in any one year.
Council will now consider a report on this issue at the next Council Meeting. The report will explore the idea to embark on a community engagement process to determine a new name for Merri-bek City Council.