A candidate in the race to become the next Melbourne lord mayor has proposed exhuming thousands of corpses buried at the Queen Victoria Market.
Pollster Gary Morgan on Thursday promised to DNA test the 7000-odd bodies buried under the car park and return them to their families.
Mr Morgan told a Melbourne Press Club lunch for candidates that exhuming the bodies would make way for an underground car park to be constructed.
He confirmed his plans to The New Daily, saying he would replace the current car park with a recreation area and build underground parking beneath it.
To achieve this, Mr Morgan said he would “exhume the 6000-plus unmarked graves for DNA analysis and allow descendants to decide where they go”.
The Old Melbourne Cemetery closed in 1854, however a few hundred people who had already purchased plots were buried there until 1917.
The market was established next door in 1859, before it expanded in 1877 and 1922 before eventually taking over the cemetery.
About 1000 bodies with marked graves were exhumed during those expansions. It’s estimated that between 7000 and 9000 remain, but a fire burned early records in 1864.
The plots were sectioned by religious denominations, while Aboriginal people and criminals were buried together in one small section, according to a report prepared for the City of Melbourne.
The New Daily contacted Koori Heritage Trust for comment on Mr Morgan’s proposal.
Mr Morgan said he would “make sure Melbourne keeps its real market”.
“The current plan as conceived is a property developer’s ‘dream’ with little thought given to the needs of local stakeholders, including stallholders and residents,” he told The New Daily by email.
“The current plan will demolish the heritage aspects of the Queen Victoria Market and turn it into a mini-Queen Victoria Chadstone next to the city – just what Melbourne doesn’t need.”
Mr Morgan did not answer questions on how much the process would cost, or whether he had considered its impact on Aboriginal families.
The renewal team has committed to “respectful management” and “minimal subsurface disruption” in the cemetery precinct, according to the City of Melbourne website.
The redevelopment was thrown into disarray last month when Heritage Victoria rejected a key part of the $250 million redevelopment, which required removing and restoring the trading sheds.
It’s not the first time Mr Morgan has run. He received 6.79 per cent of primary votes at the last poll. The pollster is not seen as a frontrunner, but his preferences could come into play when the postal votes are counted on May 12.
Mr Morgan and fellow candidate Sally Warhaft are both running against the renewal program.
Speaking to The New Daily earlier this month, Dr Warhaft confirmed she was strongly against the redevelopment.
“I don’t like it. I think that’s a project that will actually destroy the character of the very thing we love about it,” she said.
Dr Warhaft is a broadcaster, writer and editor with a PhD in anthropology.
Frontrunner Sally Capp, who stood down as Victorian Property Council boss to run for lord mayor, supports the project.
Greens candidate Rohan Leppert, who has been in council since 2012 and is considered another frontrunner, wants to replace the car park with a park and public square.
Cr Leppert supports parts of the project, but not all.
“Instead of simply appealing the Heritage Victoria decision, work with traders, community groups and the market to reach a new equitable outcome that better respects the heritage of the market,” he said in a statement outlining his plans on Tuesday.
The New Daily has contacted the Queen Victoria Market.