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Police, arrests at Djab Wurrung tree site

The people in barrels were being cut out and removed at 11.15am on Tuesday. People were also issued with COVID-related fines and cars that were blocking entry to the site were towed.

Senator Lidia Thorpe, Victoria’s first Aboriginal senator, said she was heartbroken and that her mother, Marjorie Thorpe, was seeking an emergency injunction in the Supreme Court to prevent further tree removals.

The yellow box tree, widely referred to as the directions tree, which was cut down.

The yellow box tree, widely referred to as the directions tree, which was cut down. Credit:Justin McManus

“What timing – [Premier] Dan Andrews gets everyone excited with his COVID updates and then they evict the land protectors of Djab Wurrung country, who have looked after this country for thousands of generations,” she said.

“This is no different to the Juukan Gorge situation,” Senator Thorpe said. “They’re destroying our cultural heritage, particularly that ancestor tree, and it should not have been desecrated the way that it was.”

These trees have been the focus of hundreds of supporters at the Djab Wurrung Embassy since mid-2018. Police have tried to carry out eviction orders on several occasions.

Premier Daniel Andrews told Tuesday’s COVID-19 press conference the government had “engaged deeply” with traditional owners and reached an agreement with 12 families who represented the area.

“This is a dangerous road. It needs to be built,” he said. “We promised we would. We have been respectful. We’ve engaged. And we’ve been true to the spirit of the agreements that had been entered into.”

“I know not everybody will be supportive of it … but at some point you’ve got to try and come to an agreement,” Mr Andrews said. “If we waited around for an absolute consensus, then that deadly stretch of road would go unimproved, and we would see more people dying on that road.”

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On Monday, Djab Wurrung man Zellanach Djab Mara, who has been protesting the removal of culturally-significant trees for a number of years, said he was devastated and shocked to watch the directions tree being cut down.

“It was a very spiritual tree, very moving and powerful,” he said. The state government had no consent or jurisdiction to remove the tree, he said.

Contractors began felling a number of trees last week as protesters were forced to remain home under stage four lockdown restrictions.

They also arrested a number of protesters for trespassing and issued them with COVID-related fines.

Major Roads Projects Victoria has been approached for comment.

The 12½-kilometre highway diversion has also sparked a protracted legal fight. Earlier this month the Djab Wurrung filed proceedings against federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for a third time, and called for work to be halted until the matter was resolved.

Police officers and roads workers move into the Djab Wurrung site on the Western Highway on Tuesday morning.

Police officers and roads workers move into the Djab Wurrung site on the Western Highway on Tuesday morning.

Last year the Andrews government agreed to change the road’s design to spare 16 of the 22 trees identified as culturally significant by the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, including two “birthing trees”.

On Monday, Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation director Jason Mifsud said the corporation had fought hard to protect culturally-significant trees.

The following road diversions are in place: the Sunraysia Highway from Ballarat to Avoca to the North and the Pyrenees Highway from Ararat to Avoca to the Sunraysia Highway back into Ballarat.

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