MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors want Indigenous names for the 11 new municipal wards being created on the peninsula by the Victorian Electoral Commission.
A majority of the shire’s 11 councillors last week agreed to ask the Local Government Minister Melissa Horne to “implement” and a local government municipal panel to “consider” Boon Wurrung language place names for the wards.
Councillors at the Tuesday 31 October public meeting agreed to “seek advice” about Boon Wurrung ward names from the Bunurong Land Council.
The Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation is locked in a legal dispute with the Boon Wurrung Land and Sea Council over a native title claim to more than 13,000 square kilometres of territory.
The ward boundary and name changes are part of a VEC review that will see 11 single councillor wards replace the existing two three-councillor, one two-councillor and three single-councillor wards.
The VEC has proposed three “models” for the ward changes and lists possible ward names as Briars, Moorooduc, Mount Eliza, Nepean, Red Hill, Rosebud, Safety Beach, Seawinds, Tanti Creek, Warringine, Watson Creek, Capel Sound, McCrae, Somerville, Balcombe and Truemans.
Horne will be told that council wants Boon Wurrung language place names “as this council considers that recognition of Indigenous culture is an important part of our history as recognised in our local state sponsored reconciliation action plan”.
Cr Despi O’Connor said Boon Wurrung was “actually the language and the Bunurong Land Council appreciate that as well and is something they talk about”.
Asking the Bunurong “to lead” in suggesting ward names would build the shire’s relationship with the land council.
O’Connor said the land council would not make up words if there was not one appropriate for a ward.
“There may not be a name they think is especially necessary and I don’t think we should just put a different name, a Bunurong name, if it’s not from the heart and real.”
Cr David Gill, who suggested inviting the Bunurong Land Council to help name the new wards, said the shire now had a cross section of Aboriginal names for its wards and Kangerong was “quite an obvious area name for Dromana”.
Choosing Aboriginal names for wards would “send a signal to our land council, and they have their difficulties … that we seriously understand issues and want to do something”.
The Bunurong Land Council (Aboriginal Corporation), now being run by a special administrator, has received $200,000 from the shire over the past two years plus an unknown amount for conducting archaeological field assessments as part of a cultural heritage management plan (CHMP) process (“Administrator to ‘fix’ land council woes” The News 30/10/23).
Gill said work done by shire CEO John Baker showed “that there is some, not an understanding I suppose, but some leaning towards what we are suggesting or what I am putting up for us to consider – to have First Nations names, place names [for our wards]”.
He said it was the names of wards, not places like Red Hill, Rosebud, Sorrento, Shoreham, Mornington, Hastings, Mount Martha, Dromana, Flinders and Mount Eliza, which were going to change.
“What we’re considering here is not tossing everything out, what we’re considering here is ward names, not the other names of where we live on the peninsula,” Gill said.
“The [VEC panel] couldn’t care about what names we have on the peninsula; they couldn’t even care about the boundaries. I mean, the [suggested] boundaries don’t even make sense.”
Cr Susan Bissinger thought council was going “totally down the wrong track” and would not support approaching the Bunurong Land Council “without having the full support of the community behind me”.
“It’s all virtue signalling, that’s how I see it,” she said.
“It’s not a matter of just a few councillors in one direction making their own decision, this is a decision that the whole community has to make.
“If there’s not time to make it, we should just beg for extra time, because this is not something that I’m comfortable being part of … when we’ve already ascertained that it is just virtue signalling.
“It’s not a tangible thing that we’re doing or anything like that, it’s just making it so that we’re seen to be doing something.”
Cr Antonella Celi said the peninsula had a diverse community with diverse views.
“They have different cultural groups out there, a lot of historical groups out there and those who are firm in our history, our Australian history, embracing all the cultures, especially the Indigenous culture as well. But we also have a – I’m trying to find the right words – without saying colonised would be appropriate either, but we do have a strong heritage on the peninsula, which is Anglo Saxon, put it that way, that I think also needs to be considered,” she said.
“It’s like here we are, as a council, pre-empting a move once again for our Aboriginal community, for the Bunurong Land Council, [which] could be seen as virtue signalling.
“I think these things are really important, before we go pushing ahead and always making decisions on behalf of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to make sure that we give them also every opportunity to self-determine within our community as well.
“And that won’t happen if we keep making the decisions for them.”
Cr Sarah Race said, “putting language back on country is incredibly important for our path to reconciliation” and achieving the shire’s reconciliation action plan.
“When we were at the big mob cookout last week we could see how much our community is wanting to engage with our, with mob on country.”
The mayor, Cr Steve Holland, said he would be making a separate submission to the VEC.
“There might be local names some of us might want to suggest, whether they are Aboriginal, Indigenous Aboriginal Boon Wurrung or whether in fact they’re European or Anglo Saxon names that already exist that are important to the region,” he said.
He said the ward names suggested by the panel “if you wanted Anglo Saxon names, some of them are not very good”.
Councillors who voted for the Bunurong Land Council to be asked to suggest Boon Wurrung language names were Gill, O’Connor, Race, Celi, Lisa Dixon, Debra Mar and Simon Brooks. Against: Bissinger and Holland. Cr Anthony Marsh was not at the meeting.
Clarification: The electoral structure review is being conducted by the Electoral Representation Advisory Panel, not the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). The panel was appointed by the Local Government Minister and receives administrative and technical support from the VEC.