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28 October 2020
BY DYLAN DE JONG
Environmental and First Nations protestors are desperate to prevent works going ahead at the site of a major highway project south of Ararat.
Early on Tuesday morning police and private security moved on a camp where Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy members have been camped at since 2018.
The group was at its main base defending a ‘Grandmother’ and ‘Grandfather’ tree from being cut down as part of a Major Road Projects Victoria Western Highway duplication project.
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Embassy members responded to project workers with tactics such as car blockades, tree sits and locking on to machinery.
Several trees, including a ‘Directions’ tree, were cut down on Monday as part of the project.
Embassy member Manju Larech was among demonstrators who joined in efforts to prevent works going ahead.
She told The Weekly Advertiser early Tuesday morning more than 50 police and private security guards clashed with the group.
“There have been violent arrests already and we’ve got car blockades and people doing tree sits and locking onto machinery,” she said.
“There’s a bunch of us sitting in a line to protect a pair of birthing trees here at the top and there’s about 50 police officers and lots of security coming in.”
She said project workers had already cut down a significant tree at a ‘women’s’ camp.
“They have taken over the women’s camp and cut down a Directions tree on Monday and they’re planning to cut down a Grandfather tree at the camp,” she said.
“What we have been doing is delaying the works as much as possible.” The embassy put out a ‘red alert’ warning on its Facebook page early Monday morning that asked people across the state to join the efforts.
The post indicated where police checkpoints were across Melbourne municipalities and notified people of documentation that could help ‘validate’ their presence at the site.
Ms Larech moved from Melbourne under ‘compassionate’ grounds more than two weeks ago to assist with efforts.
“I’ve been following this for a while online and through social media and I knew people that had come out here before,” she said.
“We’re here for compassionate reasons to support the mob. Legally you’re allowed to come out of Melbourne for that reason – we all have residence papers that prove that we are living here.”
Ms Larech said she made the move out to the camp for environmental interests.
“For me, this ties a lot into conservation and preventing climate change. To me indigenous peoples are the key to the climate action movement going forward. They know the land best and it should be in their hands,” she said.
“I’m just doing whatever I can to support the mob in the face of blatant disrespect for their land and culture.
“Major Road Projects Victoria seems to not have as much regard as they pretend to have for the indigenous land rights.
“The fact that it was even an option to begin with to cut down these 800-year-old birthing trees on women’s country is a disgrace.”
The Weekly Advertiser contacted Victoria Police, who responded with the following statement on Monday afternoon: “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.
“General duties police are being supported by units from the Highway Patrol and specialist support units to ensure the safety of all people in the area.
“Victoria Police respects people’s right to protest peacefully and are there to ensure no breaches of the peace or antisocial behaviour occurs as a result of protest action at the site.”
The Weekly Advertiser contacted Major Road Projects Victoria, to which a State Government spokesperson responded.
The spokesperson said since works on the site started in late September, there had been several clashes between project opponents and police, including several arrests.
“We’ve listened to Aboriginal voices every step of the way,” the spokesperson said.
“The project’s design has been approved by both relevant Traditional Owner Groups, an independent Environment Effects Statement process, the Supreme Court, the Federal Environment Minister and the Victorian Ombudsman.”
The spokesperson said there had been more than 100 crashes on the Western Highway between Ballarat and Stawell in recent years, including 11 deaths and more than 50 serious injuries.
“We’re getting on with this urgent safety upgrade that will save lives,” they said.
VicRoads closed the Western Highway in both directions between Ararat and Ballarat due to a police request on Tuesday in response to protests.
Late yesterday, 25 protesters had been arrested at the site.
The entire October 28, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire October 28, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!