Farewell to Jaga Jaga
The Shire of Jika Jika
Both Northcote an Preston were originally part of the Shire of Jika Jika.
The name came from dealings that one of the first settlers in Victoria, John Batman had after his arrival in 1835. Batman made friendly contact with the natives and explored the country near Geelong, but finding no fresh water, sailed further north to the river known to have flown into the head of the bay.
Batman "purchased" 600,000 acres of land covering most of the area north of Melbourne and south-west to Geelong in a "treaty" with the Dutigala aboriginal tribe.
His diaries suggested that the contract with the Dutigala leaders was signed on the banks of "a lovely stream of water", for many years believed to have been the Merri Creek in Northcote, the site thought to have been at the eastern end of Cunningham Street, just over the creek from Rushall railway station. (The claim is still hotly disputed, with other opinions placing the site of the Plenty River).
The British Colonial Government in Syney did not recognize the treaty, instead recompensing Batman with £7,000, but the dealings did leave the northern areas with three traditional names adopted from the aboriginal language.
Dutigala became the name applied to the Melbourne district in correspondence with the settlements at Hobart and Sydney; Doutta Galla was commonly used in Coburg and as a state electorate name, while the names of two of the three chiefs of the tribe, Yan Yan and Jaga Jaga, became corrupted to Yan Yean and Jika Jika respectively
The Shire of Jika had since its inception in September, 1871 been divided into three ridings; Northcote, Preston and Gowerville (South Preston),
With Northcote having a population more than double that of the two northern sections combined, there were many concerns amongst the local residents that they were being under-represented in Shire matters.
A somewhat clumsily organized move in 1882 to have Northcote into two Ridings (Middle and South Northcote) failed, but in 1883, the residents successful petitioned the Government and Northcote was proclaimed an independent Borough on 22 May.
Although most of the rate revenue collected within the Northcote Riding had been spent there, the breakaway left the Jika Shire that still represented Preston and Gowerville with a revenue problem.
Early estimates had just £50 budgeted for parks and gardens and perhaps not even that was actually spent; in March, 1884, the Council applied to the Department of Agriculture for an annual grant that the Department made available for expenditure on parks.The Shire's application was refused, the Department noting that Jika had actually spent less than the previous year's grant on parks and gardens, and in fact had expended none of its own funds.
With Northcote now a separate Borough, the pressure was beginning to mount for the Preston name to be officially recognised.
The Shire Offices at the time were in rented premises behind the Junction Hotel, but with the natural growth of the district and the establishment of the Preston Court in the same building in August, 1877, the accommodation had become somewhat overcrowded, and with several other inner northern councils either building or planning rather grandiose Town Halls, the thoughts of some councillors were also turning to a new base of power in the Preston district.
The public were invited to a gathering following the February Council meeting of 1885 to hear arguments for and against the name change, but it was the Council meeting itself where it became obvious how low the rights of clubs to use of the Park for sporting activities rated in the minds of some councillors.
After discussions as to suitable sites for new offices, most of which were dismissed as being outside of the Council's limited financial resources, Cr. John O'Keefe came up with the startling suggestion of building the new Shire offices "at the eastern entrance to Preston Park", presumably the corner of Cramer and Mary Street.
O'Keefe suggested "… the building would be an ornament to the Park and the trees and shrubbery would enhance the building".
Fortunately with a crowd of ratepayers waiting to express their opinions on changing the Shire's name to Preston, the matter was adjourned without discussion.
details remain of the public meeting, but the swell of support for a change was such that the Shire had agreed to proceed with the change to Preston, officially gazetted on 19 June, 1885 to be effective from 15 July, but with Shire elections due in mid-August, the Council meeting a fortnight beforehand noted the name could not be changed until after the election.
"So poor old Jika has been given another month to live" ... commented the Mercury. The name was officially changed on September 7, the first meeting of the Shire of Preston held the same evening.
The adoption of the new name saw the merger later in the year of the Preston an Gowerville football clubs into :Preston-Gowerville", but in much the same way as that of the Park itself an in many other such mergers, the suffix of Gowerville rapidly disappeared.