A Gippsland council ultimately voted down a motion on Tuesday night to remove two monuments that memorialise Angus McMillan, a celebrated coloniser of the region who instigated and organised several bloody massacres of the local Gunaikurnai people in the 1800s.
The Wellington Shire Council opposed the motion five votes to four after hearing a number of live submissions put to councillors by residents in a video conference that was streamed to social media networks online.
Councillor Carolyn Crossley put forward the motion asking for the removal of two cairns honouring McMillan that are located on council-owned land in Sale and Stratford in the eastern districts of Victoria.
The Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) worked closely with Cr Crossley on shaping the motion and its General Manager of Culture, Grattan Mullett, put forward a strong case to the other councillors as to why the monuments needed to go.
"As you would be aware, the McMillan cairns represent a celebration of history of a man who arrived in Gunaikurnai country and committed forms of genocide. We understand that he also did some good things for the new colony that we now know as Gippsland," said Mr Mullett.
"The symbolism of these cairns to us is significant in the form of their recognition. It is also an issue that has been clearly on our community and our agenda for decades."
In a written statement to NITV News on Wednesday, Troy McDonald, chair of GLaWAC, thanked Cr Crossley for putting the motion up and said the corporation was disappointed the council couldn't find a way to move forward on the issue.
"We will continue to strive for progress in matters such as these to help healing in our community and will be interested in how the Shire represents the real history of Gippsland into the future," read the statement.
Cr Crossley told NITV News on Wednesday that she was disappointed with the result and reconsidering her position on the council.
"Disappointed is probably an understatement," said Ms Crossley. "My colleagues have missed a great opportunity to make a significant statement that could have positive ramifications around the Gippsland and Victoria.
"But my disappointment pales into insignificance, I'm sure, compared to the disappointment of the Gunaikurnai people and other Indigenous people who live in the boundaries of Wellington and the Gippsland."
Cr Crossley said 78 per cent of the community submissions received by the Shire in the lead up to the motion being put to Council were in support of removing or updating the cairns.
The councillor said 55 per cent of community submissions received supported a full removal of the cairns, while only 17 per cent were in favour of retaining them.
On Tuesday, prior to the council meeting, an optimistic Cr Crossley told NITV News the removal of the cairns was an important part of healing and reconciliation for the community.
“I think it's a crucial time and a crucial way to respond to Black Lives Matter to actually say we listen to your voices, and we're going to act.
“I feel it's the first stage of a true and genuine reconciliation, to take the symbol of colonial oppression off our landscape.”
Mr Mullett also told NITV News prior to Tuesday night's meeting that he hoped removing the cairns would encourage other councils in the region to follow suit. Mr Mullett said the time was right to address the issue.
“It's also important for the wider community to take note that there's a movement that's happening not only here in Australia, but worldwide, and for us that's quite a significant moment," Mr Mullett said.
NITV News submitted an interview request with Councillor Malcolm Hole who was opposed to the removal of the cairns and advocated strongly for McMillan to continue to be memorialised by the council, but had received no response at the time of publication.
Electoral division name change
In 2018, the Australian Electoral Commission's (AEC) Redistribution Committee "retired" the name McMillan as the federal division that encompassed the western Gippsland region.
A mid-2018 AEC report on the redistribution of Victoria into electoral divisions noted that there were some objections to the proposed renaming of the seat, voiced both in comments on objections and submissions to the Committee.
"The inquiries voiced the opinion that the name ‘McMillan’ should be retained," read the report.
Eight alternative names were offered, with many arguing that it would be more appropriate for the proposed electoral division to be given an Aboriginal name.
Among those eight, three memorialised the regions Aboriginal history: Bunjileene-Purrine – in honour of Bunjileene and Purrine, Aboriginal leaders of communities in the Gippsland region; Cooper – in honour of William Cooper (1861–1941), Aboriginal political activist and community leader; and Rose – in honour of world champion boxer Lionel Rose OBE (1948–2011).
The name of the seat was replaced with Monash in 2019, in honour of Sir John Monash a civil engineer and an Australian military commander of the First World War who had ties to the region through his role in the State Electricity Commission and the development of the Latrobe Valley.