by Padriac Gibson
Over the weekend, I travelled with my young children to Djap Wurrung country, two hundred kilometres west of Melbourne, visiting an Embassy established to defend sacred trees. Currently, the Victorian Roads department is planning to destroy a large area of woodland, which includes culturally modified trees from many hundreds of years before the invasion, to make way for a double-lane highway.
There are awe-inspiring birthing trees that are 800 years old. If it wasn’t for the heroic efforts of a determined group standing in the way of the bulldozers, these trees would have already been cleared and Vic Roads would be preparing to also flatten the hills they stand on. Djap Wurrung women in particular have been in the forefront of this struggle. The kids and I were privileged to hear traditional owners leading the camp talk about the significance of the trees, and stand in solidarity with a powerful gathering of Djap Warrung and other Aboriginal people planning the next stages of the battle with the Andrew’s Labor government.
Under Aboriginal heritage legislation, there are obligations to consult with traditional owners about the potential impacts of major developments like this road. Approval was actually provided for the road by an Aboriginal group, Martang, who are the “registered Aboriginal party” for the area in question under the legislation. But the strength of the gathering on Saturday showed there is strong opposition from many traditional owners, who say they were never consulted and have vowed to fight hard to stop the development. Eastern Maar, a corporation representing traditional owners of South West Victoria, including Djap Wurrung, had representatives at the gathering and gave their support to the protests.
The protests have already forced Vic Roads to commission a second cultural survey of the planned site, which will take place this week and include traditional owners leading the protest.
Our time on this country was such a profound reminder that the land we walk through, everywhere on this continent, is a cultural landscape shaped by Aboriginal people over millennia. There is incredible passion and generosity from Aboriginal people to share knowledge of this landscape, so everyone who lives here can have a much fuller appreciation of our place in the world and in history. But infrastructure development, driven by the profit motive – in this case to expand a highway for use by trucking and logistics companies – is unrelenting in it’s efforts to destroy the truth about this country, as it has worked for more than 200 years to destroy the true owners of the land.
Thank you to everyone who welcomed us at the camp. Please spread the word and support the campaign. There is an ongoing need for people on the ground and funds for the camp. Organisers are seeking statements of support. We were informed on Saturday that the protests have forced a proper cultural assessment of the site to be undertaken this week and no work on the road will happen while this takes place. Vic Roads have hundreds of millions of dollars invested though, and the pressure to bulldoze through an outcome will be immense. It’s a vital time to show support. The union movement in Victoria should take some serious solidarity action with the Djap Warrung and put a ban on this development.