On Monday, 26 October, when the Victorian government sent workers and police into Djab Wurrung country to bulldoze a sacred birthing tree and repress protest, another racist, sexist atrocity was committed. The destroyed 350-year-old tree was culturally significant to the Djab Wurrung people. Women giving birth took the placenta to a tree to mix with the tree seeds, and the tree became the child’s direction tree. The hollow trunks of these trees hosted the delivery of around 10,000 babies.
To the Victorian government, these trees — about 3,000 of them, some thought to be as old as 800 years — stood in the way of a freeway construction that would save two minutes on a trip between Melbourne and Adelaide. In true colonial tradition, the Andrews government manoeuvred a false claim of Djab Wurrung “consent,” while dismissing an alternative route proposed by Djab Wurrung spokespeople. After years of battle, the first sacred tree came down.
Lidia Thorpe, Djab Wurrung mother and grandmother, exposes the government’s hypocrisy: “You cannot desecrate, sell off, destroy, open up, frack, and log country and then want to sit with this nation’s first people and talk about treaty.”
This despicable act is similar to an almost identical battle between sacred culture and capitalist investment. In 1994, Ngarrinjeri women fought to protect secret women’s business from the development of a bridge at Hindmarsh Island in South Australia. Radical Women and Freedom Socialist Party were involved in a united defence of the Ngarrindjeri women, involving First Nations, unionists and environmentalists. A vicious witch-hunt against the women, led by the South Australian government and bridge developers and fuelled by mainstream media, ended in a royal commission ruling against them — accusing them of fabrication. Prime Minister John Howard then allowed the construction to go ahead.
The state’s use of brutal power has been on display at the Djab Wurrung protest site. On October 26, police used their expanded COVID powers against the protesters. According to community lawyers, they moved in early that morning to block access to the sacred trees and denied lawyers access, claiming they’re not essential workers. The cops arrested about 60 protesters and issued COVID fines of $5,000 against many. Whatever is the outcome of the current court injunction to stop work, this fight is escalating.
To defend the Djab Wurrung, the following demands are crucial:
- immediately cease work on the Western Highway construction
- all sacred trees and the landscape must be protected
- all police off Djab Wurrung country; release all arrested protesters; withdraw all fines
This Web Extra is a supplement to The Organiser.