Contributed by Ben Wilson
First Nations people and their supporters have been trying to protect Djab Wurrung tribal land and sacred trees, threatened by a controversial road project to widen the Western Highway from Buangor to Ararat.
This is the place where women came to give birth for 50 generations and should be regarded as a cultural treasure of Australia.
There is a standoff. Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley has rejected suggestions for an alternative route and pressed ahead with the $672 million project. Justification for this is the claim that because six of the trees will not be harmed, indigenous heritage will be preserved.
In February this year, Victoria’s Andrews government had agreed to support a route change, and said it did so, after consultation with the traditional custodians.
The Andrews government had worked to negotiate a compromise but ended up being accused of not having spoken to the true First Nation representatives and falling in behind with a cosmetic change that is short of a route change.
Although the project is to be carried out by Major Roads Projects Victoria, it is the federal government that is paying, and the Victorian government is not challenging it.
The route change that is being proposed, runs along the existing highway most of thee way. This has been rejected.
Djab Wurrung members say the Minister’s claim is either a deliberate con or a misunderstanding of the interconnectedness of the sacred site. It will not be saved by preserving just six trees. They are calling for supporters to join them.
Going ahead as planned, will mean the removal of 3,000 trees, including the important 350-year-old Directions Tree, known for resembling the shape of a woman.
“It’s about the entire landscape,” Djab Wurrung elder Aunty Sandra said. “The removal of those hills and valleys changes the landscape. It’s already been changed now so many times … this is the final straw.”
Defenders have been camping on the scene for more than a year. Now they face forced eviction by Victorian police. The federal government has given final approval to go ahead.
In the latest attempt to stop the works, lawyer Michael Kennedy is applying to have the minister’s decision reviewed by a judge. This should at least buy a little time.
The standoff continues.