I’m facing damnation in writing this column today. I’ve been following the chatter around the naming of the new Kangaroo Flat Leisure and Wellbeing Centre so ‘in for a penny, in for a pound’ as they say in the good books, here are my thoughts on the subject.
I first must explain that while I have lived in Bendigo for over 43 years the true Bendigonians would consider me an upstart and a Johnny-come lately. However, since everyone has a viewpoint about this new leisure centre it is still useful to hear all viewpoints.
I was not here when swimming star Faith Leech won a gold medal for her place in the Australian relay team in the Olympic Games in 1956. I remember her and am aware of how proud Bendigo residents are of her connection to Bendigo.
What has most surprised me, however, is the understanding that although Faith Leech had nothing to do with Kangaroo Flat, the Kangaroo Flat Community Enterprise is asking that the new centre be named after this famous local swimmer. I can certainly see the logic behind renaming the aquatic centre after her. Faith swam at the Bendigo Aquatic Centre. That would be a fine and truthful acknowledgement of the Olympic gold medallist’s place in Bendigo’s history and sits comfortably with her story of the years of training at the pool. However, she has never been affiliated with Kangaroo Flat in any shape or form.
Wherever we drive in country towns, we see names on places that are significant and important to the community. Bendigo has a number of named buildings, among them the Annie Caudle Centre, John Lindell Rehab Unit, Dr Harry Little Preschool and Lansell Plaza. There are many more, too numerous to mention.
Inevitably with the passing of time, these people are no longer familiar to the community, although they retain an important place in every country town’s history. That situation would eventually apply to the Kangaroo Flat Leisure Centre if it were named after Faith Leech. I mean no disrespect to the Leech family, however, if the family are looking for recognition certainly the Barnard Street pool is closer to Faith’s history and would have more relevance.
The Kangaroo Flat Leisure Centre would be better served with a name which will not date with time and fame. Together we can acknowledge a shared heritage while honouring the 60,000 years of history of the Aboriginal peoples on this land. They had a name for the Kangaroo Flat area where the pool is now becoming a reality. It is called Gurri Wanyarra, meaning ‘Kangaroo Waterhole’. How appropriate to call the leisure centre by this name, as it recognises that this area has such significance to the local Aboriginal tribe the Dja Dja Wurrung. Ironically, the centre is also situated in Kangaroo Flat.
This beautiful Aboriginal name, like the Ulumbarra Theatre, complements the site and at the same time recognises that two histories, the old and new, can reconcile and live together. Historian Frank Cusack and Protector Parker both described the Dja Dja Wurrung as a peaceful and dignified people.
The Greater City of Bendigo councillors would have carefully considered the name of this new centre. I admire their choice because they have looked beyond the more limited version of a personal name and taken it to a broader level, one that fits with their own commitment to their Reconciliation Action Plan, which includes communication and mutual understanding. It ticks all the boxes.