Monday, 9 September 2013

What’s in a name?

Coburg, Stanley or Linlithgow? Which would you prefer? 

Coburg Town Hall, c1920-1954, with War Memorial in front. Rose series; P. 13046. Image H32492/7879.
Image courtesy State Library of Victoria.

Barely more than a month after the war began, Coburg was wrestling with the Germanic origin of its name. It had lobbied furiously for a change from Pentridge to Coburg in the 1860s, citing the stigma of sharing a name with Pentridge Prison. In 1875, Coburg became a Shire and civic pride was evident everywhere. It considered itself, as Broome has pointed out, ‘a fortunate Shire’.

Now there was unhappiness again. The Coburg branch of the ANA (Australian Natives Association) objected to the name being changed, but if it were, they asked that a native name, such as Merri, be chosen. Someone else suggested the name ‘Stanley’ (probably after the newly arrived Governor of Victoria) and Councillor Cash favoured ‘Linlithgow or some other suitable name’. The tricky matter was raised at the Coburg Council Meeting of 23 September 1914, although when a motion to change the name was put, it lapsed for want of a seconder.

One local newspaper decried the idea of a name change, calling it ‘puerile rather than patriotic’. It went on to say:
‘It would be well not to become hysterical. We need not be frightened out of our wits because Melbourne has suburbs named Heidelberg, Coburg and Brunswick. They have had it for some time, and no one is the worse.’
Melbourne Punch bought into the issue, too, even then revelling in stirring the pot:
‘Brunswick and Coburg recall memories of gallant generals who were Britain’s allies in the Napoleonic Wars. The Councils will probably substitute the names of some mutton-headed local celebrities, or else unpronouncable aboriginal cognomens and then expect applause for their patriotism.’

We know, of course, that the change did not happen, although other places did change, like Germanton in New South Wales, which became Holbrook in 1915.

Some wag bought into matter in 1916, declaring tongue-in-cheek that:
There is no truth in the rumour that the Coburg Council propose to change the name of Coburg to Thistletown. The Coburg Council, on the other hand, are determined to act in a very radical manner regarding thistles and have them torn up by the roots.’

The matter of changing Coburg’s name was raised again in 1920, so anti-German sentiment did not go away once hostilities ceased. This time the mooted change was to ‘Moreland’, which eventually came to pass more than 70 years later.

Sources: Richard Broome, Coburg between two creeks, Chapter 6, pp.126-162; Adelaide Advertiser, 6 September 1914, p.6; Brunswick and Coburg Star, 18 September 1914, p.1; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 25 September 1914, p.2; Melbourne Punch, 26 September 1914, p.8; Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 4 February 1916, p.2;  Argus, 28, August 1920, p.11; Argus, 10 September 1920, p.8.

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