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Traditional Wadawurrung name to honour Marngrook's past presence at AFL venue

Andrew Mathieson -

Long before the second-oldest Australian rules football club in the country kicked the trusty Sherrin up and down Kardinia Park, generations of the Wadawurrung people would play a similar Indigenous game from tightly rolling up the skins of possums.

But while that story has been well documented, what hasn't is for thousands of years the same site was more to the Community than just the tribal frivolity of Marngrook.

To Wadawurrung people, their connection to the land and place on Kardiniyoo was also an area to meet for the Kulin Nation while granting their identity for several aspects of traditional gatherings, cultural ceremonies, and rituals.

Marngrook lured mobs across Country over Djilang – the Wadawurrung place title for the "tongue of the land" – where not only modern-day Geelong lies, but also where the heartbeat of football has thrived for the past 80 years of the AFL club's storied history.

The guise of Kardinia Park, let alone the venue's changed name – GMHBA Stadium for sponsorship purposes – is a far cry from its unique past, but the latest announcement on the refurbished ground has finally paid a permanent tribute to its Indigenous side.

In a move that coincides with the fifth and final stage of the development to be named the Joel Selwood Stand, the gateway and foyer to the northern grandstand will honour the Traditional Owners of the land to ensure the spread of Indigenous stories are told.

Djilang Plaza, which is set to welcome up to 14,000 spectators through the gate of the newest-built stand towards the Geelong stadium's new 40,000-capacity, will recognise the Wadawurrung name for the region.

A further announcement on how the theme of Djilang Plaza will educate patrons over its connection to past mobs are expected to come before the 2024 Cats' opening-round match in March next year against St Kilda.

But part of process that could be confirmed was an inclusion of Indigenous art pieces.

The Kardinia Park Trust, as the naming authority, said the process this year involved "significant consultation" with the general public and key stakeholders, as well talks with Geographic Names Victoria, Wadawurrung Traditional Owners and their Elders.

Gerard Griffin, chief executive of the Kardinia Park Trust, was hoping the name of the new plaza would be embraced.

"We listened deeply during the consultation process with Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation to include two bespoke significant artworks, as part of the stage 5 redevelopment," he said.

"The connection between Community, culture, and land have all been honoured and elevated through these artworks, along with the naming of the plaza."

The gate that leads football fans directly through the Djilang Plaza will also be named after arguably Geelong's greatest player, Graham 'Polly' Farmer.

The late Noongar man was an ornament to the game and was said to revolutionise the sport in the 1960s and into the next decade following Farmer's meticulous tap work in the ruck and use of handball as more of an offensive tool.

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