The development of the Western Highway near Ararat in Victoria is threatening sacred trees and sites on Djab Wurrung country. Many Indigenous people and allies have headed there to support Traditional Owners by camping out in protest. Young Southern Arrentre woman Leandra has been part of the action. Here’s her story.
My name is Léandra, I’m a Southern Arrentre woman living on unceded Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung land.
The first time I learned of the threat to the trees on sacred Djab Wurrung country was when I saw people gathered on the side of the road outside of Labour member Richard Wynne’s office on Brunswick Street. I asked my friend to stop the car so I could go and see what this mob was gathered for. I learned that the mob were Djab Wurrung people objecting to the destruction of their sacred land.
“Some are “birthing trees” which local Aboriginal women have used as a place to give birth for an estimated 50 generations.
“It’s a part of us, it’s not just a tree. It’s an ancestor tree, it’s got a lot of knowledge,” she said.” https://t.co/SqCu9hRIF5
— adam beach (@adamruebenbeach) August 25, 2019
Since then I have been out to camp twice, responding to urgent call-outs for people to come and protect the land in solidarity with the true and rightful custodians. The first time I travelled out to the sacred trees site the police had blocked off all the roads to camp, so we were forced to park on the side of the highway and walk across hilled grass fields to get there.
That day there was good news and high spirits as Traditional Owners (TOs) and supporters successfully and peacefully rejected police from the site. We visited the sacred directions tree and birthing tree. A birthing tree that has moved Djab Wurrung people out of the Dreaming and into this life for hundreds of years and many generations. Though the people at camp were uplifted from the success of moving police on, an underlying sense of anxiety was present, fuelled by the knowing that they would be returning.
Sacred tree at the Djab Wurrung Embassy | Source: Izzy Tolhurst
The second time I visited the Djab Wurrung Embassy there were many more people gathered in solidarity. At the top camp people bought boxes of food, gathered around the fire sharing stories and kicked the ball around. At the middle camp, hard work was being done to prevent machinery from being ableto enter the site. In a single day, large trenches were dug out at road entry points around the site, banners were being painted, structures built, and meals prepared.
Many hands make light work. Every person gathered was happy to contribute in whatever ways they could. What really amazed me though, was the community engagement and education that the TOs extended to supporters. Visitors were invited to participate in workshops to learn traditional weaving and spear-making, which uplifted the spirits of every person present. The invitation by the Djab Wurrung people to listen and learn their cultural knowledge was re-establishing the importance of connection to land, as well as breaking down conditioned cultural ignorance. That’s the true healing work that mob are doing.
Djab Wurrung country, 21 August 2019 | Source: Izzy Tolhurst
My heart is with the Djab Wurrung people at this time in the fight to protect their sacred country. I acknowledge their ongoing connection to this place and their experience of identity within it. What they are showing the world right now through their integrity, honour, resilience and strength is that the continued cultural genocide of the original peoples of this land will no longer be tolerated.
Now present is an opportunity for Australia to develop maturity and integrity as a nation, through respecting and protecting the oldest living culture on Earth. It’s an important message and I honestly hope that the Victorian government is paying attention.They want to form a treaty with the First Nations people of this state but treaty is empty and meaningless while the cultural genocide continues.
No trees, no treaty! Get down to country and show support if you can.
Feature image: At camp, 21 August 2019 | Source: Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy Facebook