Support is continuing to grow for the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy, in south-western Victoria, in the face of police threats. The protest camp was set up by Traditional Owners to defend sacred lands under threat from a highway duplication project that will cost $672 million to save motorists an estimated three minutes of travel time.
While an August 22 police deadline to evacuate passed without incident, protesters at the embassy are expecting a large police presence to descend on the camp soon and are asking those who can to join them to save this sacred landscape before it is too late.
Not far from the camp, which started up in June 2018, stand about 200 magnificent 800-year-old trees, including sacred birthing trees, where elders say 50 generations of people have been born. These, along with more than 2000 other trees, are scheduled for destruction.
Djab Wurrung man Zellanach Djab Mara gave up his business to return home and protect his country. He has been at the camp for more than a year and has no plans of quitting. He told Green Left Weekly: “These spirit trees are sacred trees … I’m prepared to die for my country, to give a sacred place to our women and children.”
Work on the Western Highway duplication project has been on hold since mid-last year due to protest blockades and an application by Traditional Owners to then-federal environment minister Melissa Price to save the sacred landscape. Their appeal was rejected in December.
A further appeal lodged in the Federal Court successfully overturned Price’s decision, but left the final decision with new environment minister Sussan Ley, who said in July that the project would proceed.
The Djab Wurrung are not opposed to the highway duplication itself, but to its proposed route, which swings south of the existing highway, about 10 kilometres east of Ararat. A northern route was suggested but knocked back, even though proponents argue it would be cheaper, quicker and safer.