<p>Last Thursday, University of Melbourne students protested in front of State Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s office against the planned removal of sacred trees for the Western Highway bypass.</p>
Last Thursday, University of Melbourne students protested in front of State Minister for Planning Richard Wynne’s office against the planned removal of sacred trees for the Western Highway bypass.
Thursday morning’s action was organised by members of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Environment collective in conjunction with the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy.
Spearheaded by Elders, the Embassy leads protesters in a dispute with Victorian police and VicRoads that has been going on for almost a year. Some over 800 years old, the sacred trees just outside of Ararat are of historical and cultural significance to Indigenous peoples, and are at the risk of being destroyed to create a four-lane highway. A camp has been set up on Djab Wurrung country to resist police and machinery.
“As supporters who were unable to attend the blockade in person, we hoped that by mobilising in Narrm/Birarranga (Melbourne) we could place pressure on key figures to alter freeway extension plans so the trees could be protected,” Mia Allen, one of the organisers, said.
“As the State Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne has significant power over the freeway extension plans.”
UMSU Environment Officer Will Ross said, “We decided to send a message to Minister Wynne: that business as usual will not continue while the government pursues cultural genocide.”
20 to 30 people attended, primarily students along with some from the wider activist community in Melbourne.
Protesters chanted and chalked for approximately three hours outside of Wynne’s office, holding up signs that read “#No Trees No Treaty” and “destroying sacred trees for a coupl mins shortcut [sic] doesn’t sound very progressive to me”.
No one from the office came out during the protest; however the group attracted over a dozen uniformed police officers.
Farrago reached out to Richard Wynne’s office for comment but did not receive a reply.
Despite being a snap action organised at short notice, organisers were happy with how it turned out.
“We had quite a crowd, and were a loud presence on Brunswick St, with placards and lots of chanting,” Allen said.
“Unfortunately no-one emerged and approached us from Richard Wynne’s office… However, we did engage many passersby, raising awareness about the situation on Djab Wurrung country and providing information about joining the blockade or, if unable, donating money and calling and emailing key figures.”
Allen said that it was “particularly disappointing in light of the State Government’s rhetoric on making treaties with Indigenous groups in Victoria, which we consider hollow as long as such acts of cultural genocide continue”.
In response to the plans to remove the Djab Wurrung trees, the UMSU Indigenous Department put out the following statement:
The UMSU Indigenous Department would like to publicly condemn the actions of the Victorian State Government, Vic Roads and Victoria Police. The Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy was erected to halt the destruction of sacred land which includes multiple archaeological sites, many sacred and large old red gums and two extremely large 800 year old birthing trees. These two trees have been used for many cultural practices but have been the site of generations of births on Djab Wurrung country and they have now been marked for destruction. If these trees and sacred sites are desecrated there will be unspeakable amounts of grief and culture lost. Djab Wurrung people have been working tirelessly for months on end to protect these sites and now they are being threatened with removal and arrest by the Victorian Police.
It is extremely disappointing to see the lack of support from Victorian State Premier Daniel Andrews as he has been public about his commitment to Aboriginal peoples self-determination in a time where Treaty negations are occurring.
“You can’t sign a treaty with one hand and chop down our trees with the other. It’s contradictory to righting the wrongs of colonial violence,” these words from Meriki Onus hold strong.
This is a developing story.