For more than a year now, protesters have been camped at a site in western Victoria on Djab Wurrung country, trying to protect sacred Indigenous trees. The group, which started out at around 50 or so, has grown to include over 200 people.
Over 200 sacred trees are under threat from bulldozers at the site, which is sacred women’s country for the Djab Wurrung people. Perhaps most notably, this includes an 800-year-old hollowed-out tree that has been used by women as a space to give birth. The tree has seen the birth of more than 10,000 Djab Wurrung babies over 50 generations.
The Victorian Government – specifically Major Road Projects Victoria – is planning to upgrade part of the Western Highway that connects Melbourne to Adelaide, and will clear around 3000 trees in total during construction. The highway upgrade is to reroute a dangerous stretch of road that has seen over 100 crashes and 11 deaths in recent years.
Current plans have the rerouted highway swinging south, straight through the Djab Wurrung site. Traditional owners and their supporters have been proposing that the new route swing north instead, which would both avoid the sacred trees and cost the government less to build. For some reason, the government rejected this northern route.
The destruction of these trees for any reason would be a massive loss for the Djab Wurrung people and Victoria as a whole, so to be threatened with bulldozers when there is another perfectly good option is particularly offensive to the protestors. It also has people throwing some pretty serious side eye to the signs in the windows of the Victoria Roads office, paying their respects to the local Indigenous people.
Actions speak louder than words, after all.
The protestors that have been camping on the site were given a 14-day eviction warning on August 8, meaning August 22 was the day that authorities were expected to come in and evict everybody so that the trees could be cleared and construction could begin. As of now, nobody has shown up, and the camp still stands.
When the Notre Dame cathedral burned down in April, the world was devastated, and rightfully so. Watching history disappear in front of us really hurt. There were tears, there were songs, and over a billion dollars was quickly raised to restore it.
Like the birthing tree, the cathedral had stood proudly for 800 years. Nobody ever pointed a bulldozer at Notre Dame.
We’ve destroyed plenty of sacred Indigenous sites before. The Gumbi Gumbi trees, Nirmena Nala Cave, and Baiame Cave are just a few. All week we’ve been watching Pauline Hanson hype herself up to climb Uluru, then back out when she got scared – which might be funny if the situation wasn’t so bleak.
Do we give these sites less respect because they’re natural instead of brick and mortar? Do we really think that roads are more important than our history? Or do we just not respect our Indigenous people enough to care what is sacred to them? They’re uncomfortable questions with uncomfortable answers, but they’re questions that need to be asked. Preferably before the Victorian governments bulldozes the Djab Wurrung trees.