Civic centre name rift

Concept illustrations for council's new civic precinct, currently under construction. (Supplied)

By Luke Voogt

A perceived “lack of consultation” over the naming of Geelong council’s civic precinct has raised concerns among local Aboriginal groups and individuals about “systemic issues” in state legislation.

The criticism followed council’s announcement on Monday that it would name its new $102.5 million headquarters Wurriki Nyal in tribute to the region’s Indigenous history.

Pronounced WUU-ruh-kih nee-YAHL, the words mean “speak and talk together” in the Wadawurrung language, according to council.

A local Indigenous academic, who wished not be identified, told the Independent the legislation led to the exclusion of many local Aboriginal groups and individuals having their say in the later stages of the project to name the headquarters.

State legislation requires council to consult the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation as the local registered Aboriginal party for the use of indigenous names.

Initially, a broad and diverse range of Aboriginal groups, consultants and individuals attended council workshops following suggestions of using an Indigenous name for the headquarters, according to council.

Council followed the guidelines of the Geographic Places Names Act and the Aboriginal Heritage Act in seeking the approval of Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation.

“I know some people who have just as much cultural authority to have a say who haven’t had a say. It’s just caused this huge wedge in the community,” the academic said.

Another local Indigenous source, who also wished not to be identified, said the anger of some local Indigenous groups over the naming highlighted issues in the legislation.

“Governments want a ticked-box approach,” they said.

Council’s customer and corporate services director Michael Dugina said recognising and celebrating Geelong’s Aboriginal culture had been a key focus of the civic precinct project from inception.

“The city continues to implement ideas and explore opportunities to benefit Aboriginal artists and businesses,” he said.

“These opportunities are made available to all Aboriginal people.

“As required by Geographical Names Victoria, the naming will be advertised for 30 days with an opportunity for public feedback.”

Council has contributed $102.5 million for the headquarters – part of a joint $220 million civic precinct project it is building in partnership with developer Quintessential Equity.

Council expects the joint commercial-council project to create 900 local jobs during construction and be complete by mid-2022.

Council aims to consolidate staff from seven central Geelong offices in one headquarters through the project to reduce its operating costs.