Support for the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy continues to grow, nearly a month after the Victorian Labor government gave Traditional Owners and supporters two weeks to vacate the protest camp site.
The embassy was established in June last year to protect Djab Wurrung sacred lands under threat from a proposed 12.5 kilometre duplication of the Western Highway between Buangor and Ararat, in south-western Victoria.
If it goes ahead, the project will destroy more than 3000 trees, including 200 trees that are sacred to the Djab Wurrung people, among them birthing trees, some of which are 800 years old and where elders say 50 generations have been born.
One sacred tree was set alight in a suspected arson attack on August 26. The attack may be linked to posts on social media by opponents of the camp threatening to harm the trees.
Traditional Owner and Djab Wurrung embassy founder Zellanach Djab Mara told NITV News that day: “This is an Ancestor tree. It is very sacred to us. I was gutted. It broke my heart.”
An arborist is assessing the tree for its viability.
Importantly, the embassy continues to gain support.
Moreland City Council passed a motion of support on August 14 stating: “Council strongly opposes harm, destruction and forced removal of the 3000 trees, including sacred birthing trees and a directions tree on Djab Wurrung country”.
Noting that the project “would have devastating emotional, physical and spiritual effects on Traditional Owners” and “compromise Victorian Treaty negotiations,” the motion asks that the state government “sit down with the Traditional Owners to find an appropriate alternative route that protects the songlines and sacred trees”.
The motion also “calls on the government to immediately revoke the eviction notice which was issued to the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy on 8 August”.
Trade unions are also backing the struggle, with the Victorian Trades Hall Council sending a convoy of more than 100 members to the embassy on August 25.
Embassy representative Amanda Mohamet said: “We’ve been standing here peacefully, stamping our spiritual authority on our country for 15 months. To have our union brothers and sisters behind us only strengthens our position.”
VTHC passed a motion in March, in which it declared that “[VTHC] stands with the Djab Wurrung in their campaign and struggle to stop the removal and destruction of important sacred trees threatened by VicRoads planned Western Highway extension”.
Mohamet said: “The union movement understands what struggle is, right now we have no justice on our country...
“At the end of the day, all we’re asking is for our country, our homelands to be safe. We’re asking for [Premier] Daniel Andrews to follow this demonstration from the unions, to come and show his respect on our country, cancel the eviction notice and conduct an open dialogue with our First Nations People.”
The Djab Wurrung embassy is asking people to visit. Camping is encouraged and basic facilities are provided. Donations of food and other supplies are always welcome, but Coles vouchers make catering easier.
A protest will be held outside state parliament on September 10, 8.30am, with the aim of involving all those who support this struggle but are unable to make it to the embassy.