Coburg

Coburg, as one who has any awareness of history may well surmise, got its name from an early German settler, and it does indeed refer to the similarly-named region of Bavaria. However, the route from one to the other is a little more convoluted than it may appear on the surface.

In the late 1830s, when the area was first being settled by Europeans, conflicts with the Wurundjeri people were commonplace. The reaches of the Merri creek that pass through that area were the site of corroborees and other ceremonies held by the Wurundjeri, and they were loathe to part with them. Things only worsened after the Battle of Yering in 1840, which was a defeat for the Wurundjeri people. Resistance to the whitefella hardened, and the Coburg area became a key site in the struggle.

The Wurundjeri people of the area were led in this conflict by a warrior whose true name is lost to us, but who was recorded by European settlers to be named Morris (presumably a corruption of whatever his name was in Woiwurrung). Morris was a smart, capable fighter and a skilled leader and tactician. He led a series of well-planned and executed raids, and made a point of drilling his people with any captured weapons and ordnance – Morris had little doubt about the technological superiority of his foes, and many of his raids were particularly aimed at redressing this imbalance.

But in time, numbers and technology told against him and his people. The Wurundjeri forces were few in number, and none of them were professional soldiers who could do nothing but fight. Morris’ plan for a slow escalation of guerilla warfare against the Europeans, to wear them down while inspiring more of his own people to join the fight, was a good one, but it depended on a lack of reinforcements for his foes, something entirely beyond his control. The first major reverse he experienced came as a result of a great victory, when a farm at Pentridge was burnt to the ground, and its cattle driven off to the north, where they would be harder to recapture. But the north was where Morris’ people dwelled, and the cattle devastated the environment where they hunted and gathered.

The true death knell came with the beginnings of the gold rush. The trickle of reinforcements and new settlers became a flood, and Morris and his Wurundjeri warriors were washed away. But Morris himself, now a wanted criminal, surrendered personally to the Governor of Victoria, and was treated as a respected and honoured opponent. The area he had called home was named Coburg, commemorating the parallels between Morris and the patron saint of Coburg in Bavaria, a black African Roman legionary named St Maurice.

Suburbs near Coburg: