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murray_river

The 44th Parliament of Australia opened yesterday at 10.40 am, with the swearing in of new MPs. When I covered a name from the election back in September, I hinted that there might be more political names coming up when all the votes had been counted. Now more than two months later, after an extraordinary vote-counting process which seems to have been more than usually disorganised, all results seem to have been declared, and we can go ahead with some names from politics.

One of the electorates which political pundits were keeping a close eye on was Indi. The division of Indi is in north-eastern Victoria, and its northern border is the Murray River, while in the south-east it is bordered by the Australian Alps. Its largest settlement is the city of Wodonga, on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. Although one of the largest electorates in Victoria, much of it lies within the Alpine National Park and is uninhabited.

Indi has existed continuously since Federation, being one of the original 75 electorates formed in 1900, and for almost all of its history has voted conservative. The last time Labor won here was in 1928, and that was because the conservative candidate rather carelessly forgot to nominate. The first person to represent Indi was Sir Isaac Isaacs, who went on to become Attorney-General, Chief Justice of the High Court, and the first Australian-born Governor-General.

The name Indi is taken from a local Indigenous name for the Murray River. Names starting with Ind- are very trendy in Australian, such Indiana, India, Indigo, Indie and Indy, and Indi seems like a great way to follow this trend with a specifically Australian meaning. It could be used for either sex, although many people feel an -i ending seems “feminine” eg Toni is for girls, Tony for boys.

Traditionally, Indi has been represented by what has been described as the “rural gentry”, but this changed in 2001 when former Melbourne barrister Sophie Panopulous (later Sophie Mirabella) won the seat with a primary vote of 40%. She was dubbed “Uptown Girl” by those who didn’t relish the thought of a young, female, Greek-Australian city lawyer representing their rural seat; however she had no trouble gaining pre-selection for the seat from the Liberal Party, and easily defeated her opponents.

Sophie continued to win elections in the safe Liberal seat, however some residents felt that she was taking them for granted. They formed a grassroots movement, Voice for Indi, to find an Independent candidate to run against Sophie Mirabella, and eventually Cathy McGowan accepted.

Cathy had been a staffer for Indi’s Liberal MP in the 1970s and ’80s, a regional councillor for the Victorian Farmer’s Federation, and President of Australian Women in Agriculture. She has a Masters in Applied Science in Agricultural and Rural Development, and received an Order of Australia for raising awareness of women’s issues in regional, rural and remote areas. Cathy lives in Indigo Valley, where she was born and raised, and works as a farmer and rural consultant.

The contest in Indi was extremely close, and counting of votes went on for eleven days, but on September 18, Sophie Mirabella conceded defeat and Cathy McGowan claimed victory by 431 votes, giving her a swing of 9.2% and a slender majority of 0.2% – the first time an Independent has won in rural Victoria since World War II, and the first Independent to ever win Indi. I believe this was the narrowest win in the lower house for this year’s election, and Sophie Mirabella was the only Liberal incumbent to lose her seat.

I can’t help feeling rather tickled that an Independent from Indigo Valley won the seat of Indi. Amazingly, nobody thought to use this as a headline, which would have been rather fetching.

An important message from the Voice for Indi election campaign is that a sitting MP should never take a safe seat for granted in the long term. The good news is that if you are stuck with a lacklustre MP in your electorate, you may be able to get rid of them with the right candidate, a well-orchestrated campaign, and grassroots support. Yay, people power!

Although she didn’t manage to make herself very popular in politics, Sophie Mirabella has a fantastic surname.

Mirabella is an Italian name which is the Latinate form of the English name Mirabel, from the Latin for “wonderful”. In the Middle Ages, Mirabel was a unisex name, but is now considered feminine, while Mirabella is specifically feminine (the male form is Mirabello – Mirabello Cavalori was an Italian painter during the Renaissance).

Beautiful, elaborate and right on trend, Mirabella would be a great choice for someone who loves Miranda and Isabella, but worries they seem too common. This has been chosen as a name for his daughter by Canadian rock singer Bryan Adams, and it’s a long-time favourite of Linda Rosenkrantz from Nameberry – that’s a very high recommendation! You could use hip Mira or popular Bella as the short form.

One other issue is that Mirabella is the name of an Australian company which makes electric light-bulbs, but when you think about it, light is a positive association. Unfortunately, I fear that the widely-loathed Mrs Mirabella may have done this pretty name more harm than a few light globes ever could.

POLL RESULTS: Indi received an approval rating of 60%, while Mirabella enjoyed more success with a rating of 75%.

(Photo shows the Murray River near Wondoga, from where the Division of Indi receives its name)

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