Politics

The Victorian Government Is Being Slammed For Razing Sacred Djab Wurrung Trees

The tree was destroyed even as Melburnians celebrated the announcement of the easing of coronavirus restrictions on Monday.

Djub Wurrung tree

The Victorian government is facing heavy criticism for destroying the directions tree, a sacred Djab Wurrung cultural artifact, at almost the exact same time as lifting coronavirus restrictions.

The group of sacred trees is in the path of a $157 million highway duplication between Buangor and Ararat — and yesterday, VicRoads and police evicted Djab Wurrung people living in the country attempting to protect ancient trees, and cut down the directions tree while Melbourne celebrated.

Djab Wurrung people believe the “grandmother” and “grandfather” trees are now at risk.

Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe is a Djab Wurrung woman, and told Junkee that the destruction of the tree hurt her community immensely.

“I’m absolutely devastated. It feels like another death in our community because we are so intrinsically connected to our country and all living things on our country. This is a day of mourning for us,” she said. “Aunty Sandra, [a] matriarch has fallen ill. People are hurting.”

Ms Thorpe said an urgent legal challenge had been lodged against any further fellings.

“My mother has put in an injunction to the Supreme Court. She’s devastated.”

Witnesses have described hundreds of police at the scene arresting protestors today, with some reports of officers using COVID rules to move activists and Djab Wurrung people along.

Criticism and mourning for the directions tree began Monday night, with a focus on the timing of the destruction to match the easing of lockdown.

Some government critics link the destruction of the sacred sites to other genocides seen around the globe.

The now felled tree came from a Djab Wurrung cultural practice of mixing a placenta with the tree’s seed to create a “directions tree”, a spiritual link to their ancestors and a place to go to for guidance.

The road’s design had been changed previously to spare trees claimed by the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, known as “birthing trees”.

The Age reported last year that a cheaper route which would have spared trees significant to the Djab Wurrung people had been ignored by the Victorian government.

Djab Wurrung elders were in the process of challenging the state government’s plan in the federal court when the tree was cut down on Monday.

The destruction of a sacred cultural artifact was made possible by a racist value judgement by the state and federal governments, Ms Thorpe said.

“It shows how out of touch the government’s are when it comes to our heritage. [Federal Environment Minister] Sussan Ley denied the protection of our site at the same time she’s protecting some satellite dish,” she said. “It’s racist. And it’s violence being perpetrated against us as First Nations people.

“If it’d been the local church or the MCG, the Shrine of Remembrance, those places have been there for what, 100 years?

“Some of those trees are 800 years old. Why are we being disregarded in how we connect and what we see as a part of our religion.

“It’s where we go to worship our country and talk and connect to our ancestors. It’s no different.”

Ms Thorpe, a prominent voice in the discussion between First-Nations Victorians and the Victorian government, said the loss of the trees would significantly harm efforts to reach treaty.

“We’ve tried to negotiate a way forward and we’re being treated as troublesome protestors but we’re land defenders,” she said. “It’s our job as Djab Wurrung to protect our land, our water, and our people.

“No trees, no treaty. How can this government sit down and talk treaty now? What’s there to talk about? Where’s your good faith?”