Destruction Of Djab Wurrung Trees Delayed Until Late November After Court Ruling

The Djapwurrung's legal team's move to extend the injuction to halt works was extended until November 19.

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The Victorian government will  stop work on the Western Highway upgrade which threatens to destroy six trees sacred to the Djapwurrung people for three weeks.

The legal challenge to the Victorian Supreme Court was launched on Tuesday by Djapwurrung woman Majorie Thorpe, following the felling of the directions tree on Monday.

Justice Forbes said the court would return to discuss the upgrade on the 19th of November, but the matter could return to court sooner if both the government and Djapwurrung people agree to an earlier date.

Ms Thorpe’s Barrister Ron Merkel QC said the incident went to the heart of how governments in Australia value Indigenous heritage and their claims to their land and culture.

Mr Merkel told the court the works being carried out were illegal because they were in conflict with rights given to Indigenous Australians in the Human Rights Charter Act and the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

“This case goes to the heart of what Aboriginal tradition and significant area means and how it is to be protected under the Human Rights Charter and Aboriginal Heritage Act,” the court heard. “It is an affront to the protection of the charter and what the Victorian act seeks to achieve.”

The charter allows anyone to carry out their cultural practices unimpeded and had specific provisions for Indigenous people.

The heritage act sets out a legal framework for protecting sites of significance to Indigenous Victorians.

Mr Merkel said these rights were further impinged by having Djapwurrung people removed from places of cultural significance by police, who arrested and moved on activists near the trees on Tuesday.

He said a large space around the six trees was a place of spiritual significance.

“The immediate surrounding area cannot be separated from that,” Mr Merkel told the court.

The Djab Wurrung Heritage Embassy’s demands include rerouting the highway away from the site.

Richard Attiwill QC, acting on behalf of the government, said it had already agreed not to destroy five of the six trees and had signed an affidavit to say it would not destroy the last for two weeks.

Mr Merkel said this was not good enough.

“[They] say they won’t chop it down in the next two weeks which says to me they will chop it down on the 15th day,” he told the court.

The directions tree was the product of an ancient Djapwurrung cultural practice of mixing a child’s placenta with a seed, to create a spiritual link to ancestors and a physical place for the child to go to seek guidance.