The Dalby Regional Council is not located on unknown territory. It is located right in the heart of that very famous geographical region of Australia known as the Darling Downs. It is not the only regional council on the Darling Downs but it is by far the largest geographically.
It also almost duplicates the parliamentary region of the Darling Downs for which the current Member of Parliament is Ray Hopper of the Liberal National Party. By sliding the Darling Downs Political Region on the map about a hundred kilometers (62 miles) to the north-west, it would cover almost exactly the same area as the Dalby Regional Council. Or, inversely, by sliding the Dalby Regional Council zone on the map about 100 kilometers to the south-east, again, it would cover almost exactly the same area as the Darling Downs Political Region. For an area of 38,000 square kilometers (nearly 15,000 square miles) that is a fairly marginal difference, particularly considering the small populations involved. The gains and losses tend to cancel out.
So there are in fact two almost identical regions which overlap, one representing the state parliament the other representing local government, both located on the Darling Downs.
The similarity between the two is not just limited to their geographical locations: the size of population they represent is also similar - 35,000 for the parliamentary region and 30,000 for the council region. It is largely the same electors voting for the same mayor and the same parliamentary representative at the same local government and parliamentary elections. The electorate office of the Member of Parliament for the Darling Downs is located at 14A Cunningham Street Dalby, just a ten minutes walk from the Dalby Regional Council offices at 107 Drayton Street.
Local governments do not usually change their names. The Dalby Town Council, for example, did not change its name in the 145 years of its existence. The new regional council would not need to change its name either if it had been given a “neutral” regional name in the recent amalgamations rather than the name of one of the towns in the region.
The Local Government Reform Commission simply indicated that the new administrative regions did not have to correspond to the geographical regions. It made no reference at all to the parliamentary regions which also happen to be located in the same geographical areas and overlap with the new administrative and geographical regions. Instead of comparing all three regions: geographical, administrative and parliamentary, it only took into account the geographical and administrative regions. It then opted for a general rule that each administrative region was to bear the name of its largest town.
Inevitably, merging town and shire councils into regional councils obliterates the historical and cultural identity of vast sectors of the community. It also puts a damper on the social image and political ambitions of large numbers of local notabilities. Unless correctly addressed, these factors are potential sources of internal conflict. Finding the right name is part of the process of defusing possible sources of friction and dissatisfaction.
One hundred and forty-five years is a long time. The next change will not come soon. We had better make sure we get it right. “What’s in a name?” one might ask. “That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet” replies Shakespeare. True, but only if one considers the object rather than the name. The name “rose” evokes a beautiful object that smells sweet, whereas the name “toilet”, for example, evokes an object that is not particularly beautiful and does not smell sweet. Different names evoke different objects. By the same token, when the mayor or the priest says “I name you man and wife” he is not just making polite conversation; he is binding the couple hand and foot in wedlock with mutual legal and moral obligations that could prove quite costly in the long run. The verbal “naming” in this context has force of contract. It would be an error to think that a name is merely an arbitrary label as Shakespeare suggests. When correctly employed it epitomizes identity, reputation, social standing, cultural background and basically everything a person or, in this case, a region, stands for.
So what is the right name? The right name for the region can (but not necessarily) be the name of the largest town in that region. It is the right name, for example, when the “town” happens to be Brisbane, the state capital, or Toowoomba, Queensland’s largest inland city. Whatever the name is, it should be one that everyone can identify with and one which preserves the cultural heritage of the region. Whilst the motor for regional council amalgamation is obviously financial and economic, the road to successful amalgamation is, without the slightest doubt, more of a social and cultural nature. Socially and culturally, we are not starting out from scratch. We have already come a long way but we still have a long way to go.
It is important we seize this rare, historical opportunity not just to preserve but also to enhance the cultural heritage of the region. There is absolutely no need to invent a new name. It would have been quite simple to adopt the name our forefathers in the region bequeathed to us, the name Allan Cunningham gave the region in 1828 when he first crossed the Great Dividing Range and discovered it: the Darling Downs.
There can be no doubt that the intentions of the Dalby Regional Council are honourable in not wishing to claim the sole right to the term “Darling Downs”, but no other region has expressed an interest in adopting the term and, more importantly, the State Government authorities have clearly indicated that the boundaries of the new administrative regions do not have to correspond to those of the geographical regions. In other words, the Dalby Regional Council does not have to cover the whole of the Darling Downs geographical region for it to bear the name: Darling Downs Regional Council.
The region has a good case for staking a claim for the cultural heritage of our forefathers (or our “patriarchs”, as Banjo Paterson likes to call them). Unfortunately, it has failed to do so, perhaps simply due to an excess of prudence and modesty on the part of our local representatives. The problem is that if neither Dalby nor any of the other local government regions adopts the name it will fade into the mist of time and be forgotten. It is important that our local representatives and all those concerned in the region become conscious of the fact that for “the famous Darling Downs”, to remain “famous”, the term should not only be adopted but also promoted in every aspect of the community’s regional activities, and, in particular, the activities of local government.