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.

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.

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.

Image: Facebook / Deborah Moerkerken & Liz Burns