On the same day the rest of Victoria (and Australia) was celebrating the easing of lockdown restrictions in Melbourne, highway construction workers tore down the sacred, 350-year-old Djab Wurrung Directions Tree in the centre of the state.
The Directions Tree was one of many sacred trees on Djab Wurrung Country which have been threatened by a $157 million highway upgrade between the towns of Buangor and Ararat. Since 2018, activists had been protesting the highway’s route, which would involve tearing down many of these trees.
However on Monday, Victoria Police sent 15 vehicles to the site and dismantled Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy’s camp. After that, contractors were able to cut down the tree.
Djab Wurrung man Zellanach Djab Mara told The Age he felt “devastated” watching it being torn down.
“It was a very spiritual tree, very moving and powerful. The Australian government had no consent or jurisdiction to remove that tree,” he said.
Major Road Projects Victoria later told the newspaper that the the tree wasn’t actually the Directions Tree identified by the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, but just an ordinary fiddleback tree. However, this is disputed by activists protecting the site.
Now that police have completely blocked off the site, nobody can even check, according to the ABC.
Regardless of whatever tree the workers claim to have avoided, the tree that was cut was still widely referred to as the Directions Tree.
Update: I have been able to *confirm* that the tree in this picture – which is widely referred to as the Djab Wurrung Directions Tree – has been chopped down and removed.
Story and more detail to come. pic.twitter.com/904QPI7m8Q
— Miki Perkins (@perkinsmiki) October 26, 2020
Victoria Police also confirmed their presence to SBS News, claiming that they were there to make sure there was no violence or “antisocial behaviour” at the site.
“Police have a strong dedicated presence along the Western Highway today as part of an operation to remove camps and protestors from restricted areas as highway construction work continues between Buangor and Ararat,” it said in a statement.
The decision to cut down the tree has been slammed universally by people involved in the protection of the site, as well as by many in the wider community.
Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said Djab Wurrung Country had been violated once again.
“Couldn’t kill us, so they’ll kill everything else that keeps us alive,” she tweeted.
Today Dan Andrews tore down an ancient ancestor tree, DjabWurrung people and country have been violated once again. Couldn’t kill us,
So they’ll kill everything else that keeps us alive.
— Lidia Thorpe (@lidia__thorpe) October 26, 2020
I can feel the chainsaws tearing through my heart, my spirit, my DjapWurrung body is in pain. Today I laid on the floor and cried. Cried for our mother, DjapWurrung Country ???? #DjapWurrung
— Eileen Sissy Austin (@EileenSissy) October 26, 2020
I thought for a moment today that I could cry overwhelming tears with other people living in Victoria who roughed it out in a very long and hard lockdown because I played my part and I sacrificed too
…and then I was reminded that we don’t matter to the colony. pic.twitter.com/rJrt0y6AEj
— Meriki Onus (@MerikiKO) October 26, 2020
The Andrews government has used today as a political distraction from the desecration of a sacred Djab Wurrung women’s site, to silence the voices of Djab Wurrung mob, women and allies. It is completely sinister. While the colony is celebrating, mob are in mourning.
— Madeline Hayman-Reber (@MadelineHayman) October 26, 2020
So while the Andrews government was announcing the opening up of Melbs, it was concurrently cutting down a sacred part of Djap Wurrung heritage #shame
This was the beautiful Directions Tree. pic.twitter.com/Osv4pMZbhs
— Celeste Liddle (@Utopiana) October 26, 2020
Activists say they’re now more determined than ever to protect the sacred Djab Wurrung trees from a highway which could and should be diverted around the site.