<p>In the early hours of 29 August, protestors gathered outside of CPB Contractors office building to criticise their involvement in the Western Highway Upgrade, which will cause the destruction of Djab Wurrung land and sacred trees.</p>
In the early hours of 29 August, protestors gathered outside of CPB Contractors office building to criticise their involvement in the Western Highway Upgrade, which will cause the destruction of Djab Wurrung land and sacred trees.
Organised by the UMSU Environment Committee and allies, UMSU Environment Officer Will Ross said the aim of the protest was to get “people to head up to camp and defend sacred land” and “to put pressure on the contractors, who often turn out to be the weakest link in these kinds of environments.”
After a year contending with the Labor Government’s Western Highway extension plan, the Djab Wurrung Embassy still stands strong by maintaining three campsites to protect two 800-year-old birthing trees despite Vicroads and the state government’s eviction order.
CPB, the construction company who hold the contract to clear the site and build the road, launched their Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in June this year, they said, “While our work contributes to the building of Australia for future generations, we must acknowledge the past and it is with passion and purpose that we drive unity and equality in all that we do, creating a stronger company culture where everyone contributes to understanding, trust and respect.”
One of the protestors, Elizabeth Wheeler, entered the offices before the protest began to deliver a copy of CPB’s RAP with a message inside to remind them of the commitment they made to respect Indigenous culture.
She said, “They seem to be a company that takes reconciliation and the idea of some sort of corporate responsibility to Aboriginal people very seriously.” She wished to “highlight the hypocrisy of [having a RAP] then at the same time threatening to bulldoze sacred Aboriginal landscape.”
Frances, one of the organisers, said, “[CPB are] doing something that’s totally wrong, not respecting Indigenous sovereignty, not respecting the land, and really going against their own values that they say they have.”
At around 8:30 am, ahead of working hours for many passersby, protestors lined up on both sides of the main entrance, holding placards that read “Aboriginal sovereignty never ceded” and “Get the bulldozers off Djab Wurrung country”. They chanted and sent out flyers to condemn both CPB and VicRoads for chopping trees and destroying the sacred land.
Security guards arrived at the front of the building within two minutes of the protest beginning and requested that the protestors leave. Police were called after this request was refused, they arrived at 9 am. After negotiations with both sides, the protest moved forward away from the door, and was allowed to continue until 10 am.
Despite the snap action only being known by few people in advance, the chanting and talks from protestors drew a larger crowd as some office workers joined in. Two women working in the building came down to join the protest and posted a message to their Facebook group to call for more people, “It’s probably a good idea to support these activists,” they said.
Near the end of the protest, the group, led by Frances, relayed their demands through a speech. They reinforced their demand of cancelling the planned roadworks, and urged CPB and the state government to protect Indigenous culture and respect Indigenous law.
Ross said he was satisfied with what they’ve achieved. “We received a really surprising amount of support for the protest from people working in this place. It’s really fantastic to see that this seems to be an issue that engages such a wide variety of people.”
He added, “Get up to camp if you can. There are resources available if you’re a Unimelb student. Come pop into the environment collective, every week we organise trips to camp for people who want to come up.”
The action is still ongoing.