An 800-year-old sacred tree, used as a birthing site by the Djab Wurrung people, is among 3,000 trees set to be destroyed by the Andrews Labor government as they make way for an expansion of the Western Highway in central Victoria.
The government’s plan to spend $42 million duplicating a 12km section of the highway is expected to reduce travel time by a mere three minutes.
Last June, the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy was erected in opposition to the works. Over the last twelve months the embassy and its supporters, encamped across three sites, have called for the project to be cancelled. Picket lines preventing work from going ahead have led to a number of delays in the project.
More than 117,000 people have signed an online petition calling on state premier Daniel Andrews to immediately stop work on the project, commit to preserving the sacred trees, and integrate the concerns and wishes of the Djab Wurrung community into a new project plan.
One leading Djab Wurrung activist, DT Zellanach, has been detained and denied bail since May 4 after police arrested him for driving with an expired license. Supporters have protested outside the Melbourne Assessment Prison where DT is being held. His detention is clearly politically motivated.
The Labor government has offered minor concessions, including Jacinta Allan’s announcement in February that a route modification had been planned in order to protect two birthing trees.
On May 13 it was announced that Major Roads Projects Victoria had come to an agreement with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation (EMAC) to stop work on the project until May 29 and divert the planned route to protect a further thirteen trees.
However, members of the Djab Wurrung community have spoken out against the agreement, asserting that the EMAC does not represent them.
The Socialist Party demands that DT Zellanach be released immediately. The government must engage in genuine consultation with the Djab Wurrung people to ensure any future plans for the project prioritise both the environment and the community’s needs.
By Sheri Bryson