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The Commonwealth Games, who needs them? We’ve had them before. Ditto the Olympics. During COVID-19, we even scored a world record for the number of days in lockdown. Melbourne officially has nothing left to prove.
Indeed, our tenacious old town deserves a prize. But what to get? Surely, it has to be something marvellous and practical, something that coincides with the celebration of Melbourne Day, held on 30 August each year.
As a city, Melbourne has little in common with its namesake. Credit: iStock
It took some time to ponder — many lie-awake nights, much workshopping, brainstorming, gratuitous inquiries, non-royal commissions and serious drinking sessions. And finally, it came – a new name.
If this idea seems extreme, let me ask you why? Entire countries change their monikers sometimes (remember when we were called New Holland?).
So, too, do companies, actors, writers, local government districts, footy grounds, crooks, religious converts, bands, brands and Minecraft users. Senator Pauline Hanson still goes by her second ex-husband’s name, while the seat of Batman was rebranded Cooper – named after a Yorta Yorta man who apparently made barrels. The Cent family’s boy, 50, now goes by Curtis James Jackson III.
Melbourne allegedly means “mill by the stream” or “cross by the stream”. Neither mean much these days. But back in 1837 when civic functionaries groped for an official name, they proposed naming the city after a British Prime Minister and then, when colony-status was bestowed, they named the state after the British throne-sitter.
William Lamb, better known as the 2nd Viscount Melbourne, was a member of the Whig Party and a bit of a laughingstock after his wife, Caroline, had a very public affair with that libidinous poet Lord Byron.
When he became Prime Minister in 1834, he stomped down parliamentary reform, tried to suspend habeas corpus and had rural-rights protesters arrested and put on trial for sedition (most of whom were found guilty and transported to Australia).
Melbourne became the last British PM to be dismissed by a monarch when King William IV benched him and called in the Tories. After they proved to make an even worse botch of things, though, Melbourne was brought back for another crack.
All in all, it’s a bit sad that our city bears the name of such a drudge.
In the antipodean city of Melbourne, misplaced loyalty to “home,” plus a dearth of imagination, has resulted in most of our suburbs being named after British towns or districts. A grand opportunity to give a unique identity to new settlements squandered.
This didn’t happen just here, of course, all states were incurably infected. With Victoria already taken, the far-northerners had to resort to Queensland to pay appropriate sucky tribute, while over in the west, they said: “How about ‘Western Australia?” Spotting the trend, Adelaide (named after another British monarch) said, “We’ll be South Australia, but only to the halfway point, then it’s no longer really south so better call that Northern Territory.” As for New South Wales — one can only assume they were struck by a scenic resemblance. Perhaps the coal mines.
Only plucky Tasmania was named (twice) after anyone who actually had a direct connection. First, as Van Diemen’s Land for the Dutch East Indies governor-general who sponsored the exploration by Abel Tasman, and second when Tasman himself was honoured.
It’s a similar pattern seen around the world. New York appears to have little in common with its British antecedent. The original Zealand – not to be confused with the New Zealand – is an island in the Danish Strait.
Still, Australia is blessed it didn’t have the onerous task of naming 50 states, as the United States did. But in North America we find other Melbournes: a mainly French-speaking village in Quebec, an Iowa town of 830 which boasts of being the smallest municipality in the US to have ever had an openly gay mayor and the larger city of Melbourne, Florida.
Founded by former enslaved people after the American Civil War, Melbourne, Florida is where The Doors’ Jim Morrison was born and where Sports Illustrated cover girl Kate Upton grew up. But this Melbourne wasn’t named after William Lamb; it was named after Cornthwaite John Hector, the town’s first postmaster and storekeeper, who had come from Melbourne-on-the-Yarra.
So, let’s just forget that it was Lamb who opined, whenever faced with change, “Why not leave it alone?” and instead, make a change.
The opportunity is there. Let Australia’s second-largest, “most liveable,” city be boldly reborn, an 188-year-old adolescent, with a proud new name.
How about Footicup to honour the city’s two main sports events? Or The Sprawl, which would pay tribute to our city’s love of moving out not up. Yarra would be good – unique among the anglophile handles of the country’s other capitals apart from Canberra, which is aboriginal for “meeting place”. Or there’s the obvious contender, the Koori name for the area which many Melburnians already use when referring to the city, Naarm.
Anyone else got any suggestions that aren’t utterly idiotic?
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