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MORELAND COUNCIL SILENT ON DEMOCRATIC CONCERNS

On 25 March 2021 Cnr Milad El-Halabi was arrested by fraud squad detectives at his property in Pascoe Vale over allegations of making false documents.


For context, late last year it came to light that during the 2020 Moreland Council election period — which, due to COVID-19, utilised postal ballots — a candidate allegedly offered $500 for every 50 ballot papers stolen from mail boxes in the North-East ward. These stolen ballot papers were then used to cast votes for the candidate responsible.

The ill-thought out scheme was, unsurprisingly, picked up by the Victorian Electoral Commission (‘VEC’), as a lot of residents who did not receive their ballot paper (on account of it being pinched) were simply sent out a second ballot which they filled in. When the VEC noticed duplicated ballot papers with incorrect signatures, the fraud was discovered. The VEC immediately referred the matter to the Victoria Police and the election results for the North-West ward were referred to VCAT to see whether a re-election was required for the whole ward.

The elephant in the room at the April Council meeting was El-Halabi’s continued presence. No mention of the arrest and the local’s concerns of a potentially undemocratically elected councillor has been offered by Moreland Council. One would think that El-Halabi would try to assure the public, or respectfully stand down whilst investigations are ongoing.


In terms of the repercussions for El-Halabi if the allegations are found against him, under the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic), it is an indictable offence to interfere with material being sent or delivered to a voter by the VEC. The maximum prison sentence is 5 years. Under the same legislation, if El-Halabi is found guilty of this charge, then he will automatically be disqualified as a Councillor.


At this point, El-Halabi is still present at the monthly Council meetings and helping to shape our municipality. Politically, El-Halabi represents developer interests in what is a very ideologically divided council where every proposal is hard fought. According to the legislation, Council proceedings are not invalidated because of any defect in the election or appointment of a Councillor. This means that the longer that this investigation drags on, the longer El-Halabi’s potentially illegitimate and non-representational votes will continue to impact the municipality.

Whilst the charges are yet to be determined, there is still scope for the Moreland Council to deal with the public’s concern. For example, it is within the power of the Moreland Council to apply to the Supreme Court to oust any person from Council if they believe that person holds their position contrary to the law. At the very least, Moreland Council should release a statement explaining why they haven’t done so.

By SAS & BB

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HARDING STREET BRIDGE UNDER THREAT

If you’ve never seen the bridge spanning the Merri Creek at De Chene Reserve, try not to use your imagination and you might just channel the designer. If you’ve managed to keep reading instead of banging your head against a wall, here’s some worse news: you now have a good idea of the proposed design for replacing the suspension bridge at the end of Harding St, Coburg.


The Harding St bridge has a long and complex history involving many struggles, not least of which was the Great Feud of ‘84.

Back in 1925 the first Harding Street Bridge was erected by private investors after the locals were unsuccessful in campaigning the Coburg and Preston Councils to fund it. The suspension bridge was utilised until 1983, when Coburg Council made the decision to demolish the bridge due to growing safety concerns. This caused outrage from the public and it sparked a bitter debate between the locals from the two neighbouring Councils over who should shoulder the costs. Both sides debated the shouldering of costs and the designs fiercely until a truce was struck between the two Councils and a replacement suspension bridge, mostly funded by Coburg Council, was erected.


Now, the suspension bridge that was built during the tumultuous episode in Preston/Coburg relations is being threatened again, and the plan is to replace the ropey, springy path with a structure similar to the bridge at De Chene reserve.

The current suspension bridge was built in 1985 and according to a council engineer is “coming to the end of its life”. Its proposed replacement is a truss bridge, which is apparently easier and cheaper to build and maintain. In addition to age, “the width is insufficient” a council spokesperson said.
What does it mean that the bridge is at the end of its life? The previous bridge, of which the current bridge closely resembles, was in use for almost 60 years. This current bridge has been reliably bouncing people across the creek for only 36 years.
Moreland BUG is understandably in favour of the proposal, which will allow bikes to cross the creek faster, and without the threat of having to dismount. The budget is $3m split between the Darebin and Moreland councils but a council spokesperson said they were hoping to apply for state funding to expedite the process.

While the little bridge is a favourite amongst those who derive joy from jolting strangers as they make their way across the creek, it would surely be missed by even the joltees in the community.

We’re also not sure if the council has a contingency plan for what might ensue. Last time the bridge was torn down, Coburg and Preston went to war.

What are we in for this time?

By SAS

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WHAT NEXT FOR 65 THE GROVE?

In January 2021, Moreland Council voted to refuse a planning application to demolish the dilapidated house at 65 The Grove, Coburg, and construct two, modern, double storey townhouses. The house has been left to rot over a period of 20 years.


The current owner of 18 years has ignored multiple council orders to bring the property up to scratch. During this time, an internal structural wall was removed at an unknown date causing serious structural damage, and in 2014, structural verandah piers were removed by an unknown culprit, causing the house’s roof to collapse. After this point, the property was put into a state of serious disrepair.


In their decision to refuse the demolition application, Councillors Conlan, Pulford, Panopoulos, Riley, Bolton and Davidson argued that the owner should not be rewarded with a planning permit for his wilful neglect of the property, refusing to reward ‘demolition by neglect’. The brave decision was reported in The Age and ABC Radio.


The question still remains: what should be done with a house that can’t be salvaged or legally demolished?


Before answering this question, it’s worth analysing how this situation occurred. Comparative to other countries, Australia’s state and federal planning and heritage laws are weak. They have frequently enabled developers to buy historic buildings in order to let those buildings fall apart and consequently be rewarded with a development permit that makes them millions in windfall profits.


The illegal demolition of the 160 year old Corkman Inn in Parkville highlights just how weak our planning and heritage laws are. The owners of the pub, with knowledge of the laws, chose to demolish the building in broad daylight, simply factoring the fines into the cost of doing business.
Can you imagine a 19th century terrace on the Champs-Élysées in Paris slowly decaying over a few years, falling down, then the owner being rewarded with a permit by the city government to build a skyscraper on the site? No. This would not happen because the city has strict laws prohibiting this behaviour, carrying severe financial and legal penalties. This scenario is commonplace in Australia because our planning and heritage laws are deliberately weak- a result of politicians receiving substantial donations from property developers.


But it doesn’t have to be this way. Victoria’s Minister for Planning could discourage illegal demolition by imposing jail terms for those who deliberately and illegally demolish heritage buildings. To deter ‘demolition by neglect’, owners of heritage properties whose buildings collapse (from either neglect or design), could be refused from redeveloping the site, which could alternatively be acquired by the state and handed back to the community for public use e.g. a park, community facility or other free, community use.


In the last few days it has come to light that the owner of 65 The Grove has appealed Moreland Council’s decision to VCAT just before the 60 day appeal window lapsed. But the owner has arguably forfeited his right to own the historic property by deliberately ignoring council orders to fix it up and allowing it to fall apart. Thus, the site should now be returned to the community and converted into a public park.


While the property is privately owned and the land is zoned residential, which prohibits use for the purpose of a park, this is where Moreland Council could step in.


Councils are actively involved in the rezoning of land. They frequently begin the process through Planning Scheme Amendments, which allow council to change the planning rules of certain areas of land. While Planning Scheme Amendments must ultimately be approved by the Victorian Planning Minister — and could easily be refused — commencing this process signals the Council’s intentions for how they want their land used and developed.


Moreland Council could start a Planning Scheme Amendment for 65 The Grove, which would involve applying a Public Acquisition Overlay (PAO) to the site. A PAO would transfer ownership of the land into the Council’s hands, removing the need for Council to purchase the private land from the owner.


As part of the Planning Scheme Amendment, council could also apply a Public Park and Recreation Zone to the site, which would allow the site to be converted to a public park. Council could begin the Planning Scheme Amendment process via a majority resolution at an Ordinary Council meeting, which would be followed by Council officers doing the administrative work to prepare the amendment, followed by a submission to the Victoiran Planning Minister.


This might be seen as a radical idea. But so is illegally destroying the physical and social fabric of communities. The proposed public park is a proportionate response that would benefit the Moreland community and hopefully send a signal to other cowboy developers to respect people, history and planet.


By F Commons

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BEING A LOCAL COUNCILLOR SHOULD BE A FULL-TIME JOB

The Moreland Council has their ‘allowance’ for the next four financial years fixed at $31,444 for Councillors and $100,434 the Mayor per annum.
Cnr Bolton recently argued that both the position of the Mayor and the Councillors should be pegged at the median Australian wage of $49,805.00 for the Mayor and $24,902.50 for Councillors. This figure is meant to represent the ‘part-time’ nature of a Councillor.


Indeed, most Councillors have full-time or part-time jobs, as the position of a Councillor does not pay the bills and expenses for people with families.


Having Councillor’s wages set so low (with the exception of the highly sought after Mayoral position) is problematic. Local council is the tier of government that is most intimately involved with and accessible by their constituents. Although many areas of life are governed by state and federal laws, local governments have a surprisingly broad remit. The role of the Council as a whole is to provide good governance for the benefit and wellbeing of the municipal community. Council can perform any duties or functions or exercise any powers conferred on it.


Because Councillors are required to remain employed whilst serving in office (as opposed to the other tiers of government) councillors lack the time and energy to think creatively and strategically about what they can do in their role and with their powers. Most months, Councillors are swamped by 300-page long agendas that they need to spend their spare time understanding and forming quick opinions on.


There is certainly an argument for keeping the Council truly representative of its constituents; working people juggling the pressures of life. However, most people work too much to consider taking on another job, especially taking on a role in a proactive and engaged way.


We should have a local government that can afford to pause, reflect and think seriously about the matters affecting their municipality. We want people who care deeply about local politics vying for a spot on Council and we want to ensure that those committed candidates are not being prevented from running in the first place. We want parents, people with dependants, people with disabilities and people without jobs to be able to run for council. We also want young people to see local council as a valuable and valued role in society; not something that people can or should just do in their spare time.


In order to achieve this, we need Councillor’s to do their work full-time.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Moreland Council is fighting over scraps, but it is worth mentioning that the CEO of the Moreland Council can get upwards of $360,001 per annum. Perhaps wages should be distributed more equally to cover an increased allowance for our elected representatives.


By Eddie Snagge

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WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Updates on political activism within the community

Anti-Racism Conversations in Moreland


On 27 March, locals and concerned anti-racism advocates from surrounding suburbs met at the entrance of Bulleke-Bek park to discuss what should be done about the racist incidents in Moreland.


Prompting the meeting was an incident that occurred on Saturday 20 March, when a local resident spotted an extremely large piece of pro-Nazi graffiti along the upfield line in Brunswick. The resident reported the graffiti to Moreland Council and also rallied some friends together to try and paint over it herself.


The graffiti was completely removed three days after it was reported, as there was no way to get official action from VicTrack, who own the land around the Upfield Line, over the weekend. Cnr Sue Bolton encouraged the resident to organise the snap-action meeting, and they both presented their opinions on the day. Cnr James Conlan, also in attendance, highlighted the inability of Council to act quickly in circumstances like this, but that a community task force could be created to unofficially paint over far-right and offensive graffiti.


The racist graffiti seems to be a direct response to the ‘antifa’ (the name of an anti-facism group) mural that had been painted on that part of the wall recently. After the racist graffiti was completed, 7 individuals were photographed in front of the work. Apparently the group responsible had donned KKK robes whilst in Brunswick.


Participants also talked about the need to be on high alert for the ‘entry point’ issues for the far-right, such as anti-vax and anti-lockdown rhetoric, which can capture the attention of a broader audience that have not yet ascribed to broader far-right ideologies. The point was also raised that anti-semitism has been increasing in surrounding suburbs and that this was in large part due to the shifting dialogue of the far-right in the United States.
Relatedly, the Alevi community in Coburg has complained of growing antagonism from racist groups after the Coburg Lake monument symbolising the suffering of the Alevis was repeatedly desecrated late last year.


Coburg has a long and proud history of anti-racism actions; if locals feel targeted and aggrieved by racism, reach out to the online community or to Cnrs Bolton and Conlan.


By SAS & BB

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WHY I LOVE VISITING MY GRANDMA

Every few months my mum and I, sometimes with my dad or a brother, jump in the car and drive to Adelaide to visit my last living grandparent, my grandma, who is now 94. While some people might find visiting a grandparent a tedious obligation, I look forward to it every time. I used to think that I didn’t have much in common with my grandma; she likes crosswords and talking about people I don’t know, rather than politics which is my favourite conversation topic. She dresses immaculately, while my clothes have holes and stains. Most of her family have voted Liberal her whole life, while I am an activist, sometimes living in blockades and wishing/fighting that the whole government representative democracy system we have will be turned on its head.

But as I spend more time with her I find our points in common. We both don’t like shopping, we think politics is corrupted by money and ego, we love old trees, playing cards and sticking to our specific daily routines.
The thing I like the most about being with my grandma are the stories she tells me of what life was like for her generation, and her parents’ and grandparents’ generations. What life was like for a woman back then, unquestioningly following and supporting a husband, working so hard without the modern conveniences of supermarkets, washing machines and automatic hot water. What it was like to live during the Second World War, how they did so many things before plastics and mobile phones. I can read these things in books and see them in movies, but it isn’t the same as hearing them from my grandma.

Talking to her also helps me understand my mum better, and myself. It helps me understand my place as a descendant of Cornish, English and Scottish settler colonists of the 1800s in South Australia, which I am finding a hugely important part of the self reflection needed to support First Nations led struggles and decolonisation.

So, I highly recommend a visit to your old relatives if that’s possible for you, and see what stories you can learn about your history.

By Anisa

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WHAT’S UP?

April 23rd is a noteworthy date for meteor-spotters: two different meteor showers will be at their peak. The Lyrids will be seen low in the northern sky in the constellation Lyra, near the brilliant star Vega, with peak rates of meteors occurring in the morning hours of the 22nd and 23rd. The pi-Puppids originate in the southern constellation Puppis, south of the brightest star, Sirius, and peak time will be in the pre-midnight hours of the 23rd. While each of these showers can be spectacular at their peak, this may only last for an hour or so. Furthermore, the gibbous Moon will provide an unwelcome source of light distraction until moonset (00:39 am on the 22nd,1:47 on the 23rd).

On April 27th Mars will join M35, a cluster of hundreds of stars, which, under good viewing conditions, can be seen to be a group with the unaided eye. Look in the north-west sky after sunset. Then turn to the east, to view the full Moon rising as a supermoon.

May 7th brings a chance to see the peak of yet another meteor shower, the eta-Aquarids in Aquarius. These are the debris from Halley’s Comet, and promise to be spectacular and prolific: fast, bright yellow, and with up to sixty per hour. Best viewing time will be just before dawn, say 5:30 am, when Aquarius will be overhead.

In the traditions of the Australian Aboriginal people, meteors are often associated with serpents, evil magic, omens of death, and punishment for breaking laws. In Torres Strait, the Meriam Mir people see meteors, called Maier, as the souls of the recently deceased, on their way to the Land of the Dead. When a person dies, their spirit is taken to the top of the tallest palm tree, which is set alight, and the spirit is launched on its way. The resulting Maier’s trajectory and brightness suggests where the dead person came from, and how important they were.

A striking line-up in the sky may be seen, briefly, in the twilight of May 13th, as Venus, a very new Moon, and Mercury line up in the northwest, just below the V-shaped Hyades. Look to the horizon between 5:30 pm and 6, when they set. This tableau is easily missed, but will be repeated over the next few nights, with the Moon gaining in height and phase. On May 15th the Moon will be next to the M35 cluster mentioned above, and on the 16th, it will be next to red Mars in Gemini, with the twin stars Castor and Pollux nearby.

At this time, Venus will be heading away from the Sun and remaining longer in the evening sky, but Mercury will be heading back towards the Sun, and at 6pm in the May 29th twilight, the two planets will pass each other, separated by less than 1°.

The yellowish gas giant Saturn, with orange Jupiter below, may be seen during May after midnight, in Aquarius in the eastern night sky. On May 30th, the Moon, slightly past full, will draw near Saturn, and two nights later, will be next to Jupiter.

Image: Retrograde motion of a planet

The outer planets move a little each night against the backdrop of stars, usually shifting from west to east. On May 24th, Saturn will stop moving- and on the following nights its path will be a u-turn, after which it will travel counter to the usual direction for a few months. Western astronomers explain this retrograde motion of the planets in terms of differing radial velocities. For Aboriginal people, the path that the Sun, Moon, and planets travelled along the zodiac was often regarded as a road for primary ancestor spirits. In the traditions of the Wardaman people of Northern Australia, Uncle Bill Yidumduma Harney, an elder, describes the planets with their retrograde motion as ancestral beings walking along this road, sometimes slowing down or stopping, and then coming back for another yarn with other ancestors, before moving on again.

By Vlack

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FLAVOURS OF COBURG

Bluestone American BBQ

Our society seems to have restarted itself; curfews are over, businesses are open and returning to an office-based workday is the new normal for many. With this ‘return to normal’ comes the very normal feeling of ‘I can’t be bothered cooking’. Such was the feeling my wife had after a gruelling day in the office, which led to the following text:


A link to Bluestone American BBQ with the simple phrase, ‘I want this’.


I was stoked. I hadn’t had the opportunity to try this restaurant for various reasons, the main one being the economic/pandemic crisis. I was equally excited to answer the age-old question, does American BBQ travel well? We may be allowed to go out for dinner nowadays, but maybe we don’t have to.


Thankfully, Bluestone American BBQ travels well. Very well indeed. For myself, I ordered their Chopped Brisket Burger with a side of Mac and Cheese and Corn Bread. My wife settled on the classic Double Smoked Brisket with Tangy Creole Slaw. On reflection, we ordered a lot of brisket. It was great, but it was a lot.

The Brisket Burger was one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time, and like most middle-class white men, I consider myself a burger fanatic that understands the artistry of the buns like no other. The burger consists of mac and cheese, slaw, dill pickle, lettuce, mayo, brioche bun and chopped brisket.

This seems like a simple recipe for a burger, with the mac and cheese added as a flourish. But the mixture of ingredients compliment each other in the best way. The richness of the cheese coupled with saltiness of the brisket was the bulk of the flavour profile, with their good friend slaw and pickle working overtime to balance out the bite, with a tang only they could provide. And mayo was there, too. The brisket itself, while already chopped up, still had that pull apart characteristic that it’s known for.

There’s an element of the burger that people tend to forget about: a burger can taste amazing but turn to mush in your mouth. This was not a problem here. Yes, the brisket and mac and cheese were a soft and gooey partnership, but the pickle had a thickness to it that provided a satisfying crunch when you bit into it. The slaw supported its good friend the pickle in The Great Resistance to my brazen attack of its home, the brioche bun.

I feel at this point I need to point out that everything that was in this burger we also incidentally ordered as sides, so you can take my word that were you to deconstruct this burger and eat its components separately, you’d also have a solid meal.

Afterwards, I was satisfied and content. I deem this burger: damn good.

By Matthew Boehm


Bluestone American BBQ
470 Sydney Rd, Coburg
0410 842 088

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GHOST STORY

Local writer, Gwendalyn Kneebone, has started documenting her memories of Coburg during the 1950s and 60s. This story is a postscript to Paddy Egan’s Dog, a poem publish in Issue 7.

The material for a story can come through the back door more often than from that so-called light bulb moment we writers covet.


If the clinging cliches can be unpinned most tales are plain and plain language tells them best.


My mother was kind. She welcomed post-war arrivals to the street. She swapped local food for new recipes (parsley for Tabbouleh). She helped to fill out official forms which were never in plain English.
So her kindness led to closeness and disclosures.


After Paddy Egan and family were no more, a new home was built two doors down. Very much a new monied brick pile that should have smothered history.


The new owner called a local priest for an exorcism.


She told my mother that her little girl reported seeing a woman weeping in her bedroom, on many nights.

She also said that when the old house came down there were many large old bones under the old wood stove.


They may have been from the prison farm for the dog. Or not.

By Gwendalyn Kneebone – as recalled

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MALL-CONTENTS

Mak was sitting outside Chorba Cafe, a popular Turkish cafe in Victoria Mall. She was enjoying a coffee and a Turkish delight. Mak was generous enough to spend some time between sips to regale the Meddler with some stories.

MAK: I’ve lived all over Melbourne, but I was raised in Coburg. I’ve recently re-bought in Coburg, so I’m over the moon. My mum is 15 minutes away, my sister lives in Brunswick and my brother lives in Carlton. My son lives interstate and he has a beautiful young family; I’m a proud grandparent.


MEDDLER: Did you spend a lot of time in Coburg when you were young?

MAK: Yes. When we first immigrated from Turkey, we were all staying at the hostel in the old army barracks, and then we mainly lived in Coburg. We shared a house with another family and then we lived at Jewell Station at the flats there, and then we actually purchased our first house in Coburg. Now I have a big family, which I love. We’re all spread out. That’s just what happens with migrant families.


MEDDLER: What was it like growing up in Coburg?


MAK: I first started going to Coburg Primary and then I went to Brunswick Girls High. When we moved back to Coburg, I went to Newlands High. When we first moved here, the real estate agent gave us a little booklet explaining the cafes and stores in Coburg; she also told me about Chorba. It’s beautiful, because it’s my heritage. It’s familiar. When we first came here, there were a lot of immigrants in the area. I experienced bullying at school because of my name; no one could pronounce it. When I started working in childcare, where I’ve worked for 25 years, people started calling me ‘Mak’. Which I thought was easier for people. I was originally named after my mum’s first child who she lost to whooping cough.


MEDDLER: What changes have you noticed?


MAK: When I was young I was quite comfortable walking around. Me and my sister used to walk to school with no problems. I didn’t remember seeing any homelessness or drug use, but now I see it. It’s sad, but it’s a part of life in this day and age. No one wants to be in that situation. I know it’s because of their circumstances that they get pushed aside by their families.


I love all the stores that I used to come to, but I can see a lot of change and struggle, too. The small milk bar that we used to go to doesn’t exist anymore because of bigger stores like Coles and Woolworths who are open 24/7. And now the cake store, Ferguson Plarre, has closed. But despite all this, I always feel home when I’m here.