Menu

Saving the birthing trees

Aug 21, 2019 • 17m33s

As the Andrews government attempts to negotiate treaty with First Nations people in Victoria, it is proceeding with a plan to bulldoze hundreds of sacred Djab Wurrung trees.

play

 

Saving the birthing trees

62 • Aug 21, 2019

Saving the birthing trees

[Theme music]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

As the Andrews government attempts to negotiate a treaty with first nations people in Victoria, it’s proceeding with a plan to bulldoze hundreds of sacred Djab Wurrung trees.

Lidia Thorpe on the campaign to protect her people’s heritage.

[Theme ends]

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, can you tell me about the Djab Wurrung trees in Western VIctoria which are really at the centre of this story.

LIDIA:

Absolutely. Look, the trees are not just trees to my people particularly to the long line of matriarchal women of the Djab Wurrung people. They are part of us.

ELIZABETH:

Lidia Thorpe is a Djab Wurrung Traditional Owner and the former Victorian state MP for Northcote. She wrote about this issue for The Saturday Paper.

LIDIA:

The trees are known to be around 800 year old and they've been used over time by Djab Wurrung people particularly women for birthing and shelter and cooking.

Archival tape — Unidentified Man:

“Also canoe trees, also what we call boundary trees, also other marker trees in terms of mob coming in and out of the country when they used to walk in the country. There’d be a certain tree scar that would represent that mob and they’d have to go that way, in that direction of that scar.”

LIDIA:

You only need to see one tree in particular where a whole family could sit in there. I've sat in there with my daughter. It's very spiritual.

ELIZABETH:

And Lidia it’s something like more than 10,000 Djab Wurrung children have been born at this site.

LIDIA:

Well if you calculate you know the age of the trees and the generations that have gone through this area then yeah it's probably quite a conservative number.

Archival tape — Unidentified Man:

“Mother and father would then come together with that placenta. Father holding the placenta and mother holding the seed. And then both planting that placenta and that seed. So that tree is a direct reflection of that baby that’s born.”

LIDIA:

And given that as a whole and Djab Wurrung are part of Gunditjmara - there were hundreds of thousands of us once upon a time that roam that part of the country until we were colonised and massacred in some of the worst massacres this country's ever seen.

[Music starts]

LIDIA:

We had something like 70 clans that once roamed freely, that sustained the land, maintained the wildlife and and the connections with our land and our people. And that's now down to seven clans. So most of our people were wiped out completely from the western districts.

I regularly go back to that part of the country for my own healing, for my own reconnection. And you know I often sit on Gariwerd - which is what they want the colonisers call the Grampians - and I think about my people being rounded up and herded up and shot the way they were and run down by men on horseback. So it's real and it's still raw and you can feel it, and you can feel it you know where the trees are. You can feel it all across the western districts on Gunditjmara country - on Djab Wurrung Country.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, at the moment the Andrews Government is proposing this road expansion project through the region that you just described.

LIDIA:

The road is you know it needs to be widened from a Vic Roads perspective.

They're saying that they need to widen this road to make it safer and to lessen the time that it takes for cars to particularly freight trucks to get to where they need to get to.

Archival tape — Unidentified VICRoads Representative:

“The Western Highway is one of Victoria's busiest rural highways and forms part of the main connection and trade link between Melbourne and Adelaide...”

LIDIA:

As I understand it there are three thousand trees to be cleared, and of that there’s around 260 that have some kind of cultural significance... whether that be birthing or scarred trees. So it's you know it's not a small number of trees. It's quite significant.

ELIZABETH:

And this is a freight road between Melbourne and Adelaide, what would the expansion change - in terms of time - for trucks?

LIDIA:

They’re saying two minutes.

ELIZABETH:

Two minutes on a journey you're saying would be saved by widening the road?

LIDIA:

Yes.

ELIZABETH:

Are there alternatives routes that could be explored that would preserve the cultural sites and the trees that you've described?

[Music starts]

LIDIA:

Yes. There's there's a couple of options but my preferred option is that we just leave it as it is and we just make it safer. The other option that has been put forward they’re calling the ‘Northern Option’ does impact on the environment and some grassy areas and there is concern about the golden sun moth which is quite rare, that lives in this grass. So whatever way you go it seems there, you know it's either going to be environmental impact or cultural heritage impact and I'm sure that there's a middle way that we can negotiate. But let's do that. You know we haven't done that yet.

ELIZABETH:

We'll be right back.

[Music ends]

[Advertisement]

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, the Andrews Government is proposing to widen this part of the Western Highway. And in that process they’re talking about the clearing of a significant number of trees that themselves have great cultural and significance to the Djab Wurrung people. An embassy has been established near Ararat to protest this proposal on this clearing. Can you describe what those protests have looked like. What the resistance to this plan has looked like?

LIDIA:

We're basically circling the whole area with a number of camps.
And at the moment I think they're you know there's around one hundred and fifty people out there. So there's a camp kitchen at each camp, there's lounge suites, there's a shower. There's also places where women can talk and make artefacts and there's also an area for men to do that.

Every time I've been at the camp it's just full of story and connection between Aboriginal people, Djab Wurrung people and non Aboriginal people including our multicultural community.

The only time that we've had any kind of aggression has been from the police. That was very intimidating being told I had to get out of the car and and walk a mile to get to my younger sister who was protecting one of the direction trees.

Archival Tape — Tape of police interaction.

LIDIA:

And you know these were riot police, these were black four wheel drive police cars. There would have been 60 police officers with their arms crossed standing in a line in front of traditional owners and and and our supporters to come in and remove people.

Archival Tape — Tape of police interaction:

“Because of our cultural heritage which is our religious belief… we wouldn’t go to your churches and we wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t knock that stuff over. As a matter of fact we’d welcome you into our way of life...”

ELIZABETH:

The Andrews Government has said that there was consultation with Indigenous owners of this land in putting together this project proposal. What is it that the Andrews Government means by that and what is to your mind actually going on.

LIDIA:

I think it's really easy for any government to say that they've got consent from the traditional owners because traditional owners means … what does that mean exactly?

We have up to 38 nations across the state and the Andrews Government needs to be more specific about who they gained the consent from because that hasn't been the Djab Wurrung people. They've dealt with a Aboriginal Corporation. Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation which has registered Aboriginal party status. And to gain registered Aboriginal party status you have to be approved by the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.

Now to become a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council you have to be appointed by the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.

ELIZABETH:

So there's sort of circularity to who actually is gaining access to the conversation.

LIDIA:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

ELIZABETH:

The Andrews Government says it has approval from traditional owners, but it hasn't actually - to be clear - consulted the Djab Wurrung people specifically.

LIDIA:

That's right. My mother is one of the senior Djab Wurrung women involved in this and through her and through aunty Sandra Onus who's also a senior Djab Wurrung woman, we've requested Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation to hold a meeting of the Djab Wurrung women. We did that six months ago and that still hasn't happened.

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, this land clearing is happening at the same time as the Andrews Government is talking about negotiating Treaty with the First Nations people of Victoria, which some see as a progressive move. What do you make of it?

LIDIA:

Oh I agree. I think it's a very progressive move and I congratulate the Andrews Government.

It hasn't been easy though. They have started by giving 12 reserve seats to the Registered Aboriginal Parties, the ones that ultimately are decided by a minister. So that was difficult to accept given as I said we’ve got 38 nations and not all of them are recognised through that process.

Archival tape — Daniel Andrews:

“From across our state, different voices and different views came together and they told us loud and clear that they wanted Treaty. They wanted the responsibility and the respect to write their own story. Speaker, there is still a long way to go. And it will not be easy, because the most important work never is easy. But today marks that all important first step, a new partnership, a new way of doing business with each other.. not just for aboriginal victorians, but for every victorian”

LIDIA:

And through the Treaty Commissioner the government have gone around and talked to communities and part of that process has been a conversation about Crown land. And in 2016 they went around with a map of all the Crown land that was left in Victoria and basically dangled that as the carrot and said ‘this could be what is possible through a treaty process. You could have Crown land back as part of a treaty negotiation’. And so that was really exciting, it actually got a lot of people over the line who didn't agree with treaty at all.

I myself was very excited of any notion of getting land back that we could protect and preserve for future generations but also any land back that we can economically benefit from - given most of it's been stolen. It was an exciting notion. A lot of that I believe has been sold off a lot of more inner city Crown land has been sold off to private developers but there's still Crown land out there that obviously belonged to national parks and so forth. But you know we need to ask the question again: how much in reality is left and will there be any left to negotiate?

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, if we can go back to the trees...What legal injunctions have been sought to protect them?

LIDIA:

At the moment it's been about heritage protection. So you know we went to the former environment minister Melissa Price and she rejected our claim for heritage protection. But in her refusal to protect that area she also acknowledged that it was spiritually and significantly cultural to the Djab Wurrung people. So based on that we went to the new Minister, Federal Minister Susan Ley and said: “Can you please review your decision?” She's reviewed that and came back and said ‘no, it still stands’. So now we're exhausting whatever avenue is left and obviously an injunction is one.

ELIZABETH:

So what is the Andrews Government saying is going to happen next, from their point of view?

LIDIA:

They're just going on the fact that they've done a deal with Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and they are going on as business as usual.

They've through major roads, given the camp a 14-day eviction notice which ends on August 22nd. I'll be there on August 22 and I'm sure hundreds of other people will be as well. At that point in time I don't know what will happen.

ELIZABETH:

Lidia, I have a big question on this story. I’m struggling to understand why, if there are alternatives to the proposed route that would preserve these sacred trees, and if the current route only saves about two minutes on the roads… why is the government persisting with its original plan?

LIDIA:

Oh look I think it's a number of reasons. I think that they’re just in a hurry to get the job done, they don't want to waste any more money. But I also think that it's not easy to have to negotiate with a number of people all the time either and I think that's why they set up the Registered Aboriginal party process because it provides an easier, more direct way to get sign off.

[Music starts]

LIDIA:

I think they're stubborn as well. And I think that they need to really consider showing good faith right now as we enter into this treaty discussion on how they can actually sit down and negotiate with the Djab Wurrung women. I think that would show that they're genuine in how they want to sit with our people, talk with our people and come up with solutions with our people. They need to take the time to do that now. Because if you can't show that you can do that now, then how are you going to do that in a treaty negotiation.

[Music ends]

ELIZABETH:

Lidia thanks so much.

LIDIA:

Pleasure.

[Advertisement]

[Theme music]

Elsewhere in the news:

The senate vote to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales was delayed yesterday after Gladys Berejiklian convinced the bill's supporters to hold off debating it until parliament's next sitting date. The bill passed the lower house in a late night session two weeks ago, sparking strong campaigns on both sides of the issue. Federal MP Barnaby Joyce has recorded a robocall imploring citizens to oppose the bill and claiming that it would mean abortions could be administered, quote, "right up until the day of the birth." The final vote on the bill will likely occur in mid September when the NSW parliament sits again.

And Queensland police have been granted new powers to search protesters, in response to increasing campaigns of civil disobedience, particularly in relation to climate change. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said that quote "sinister tactics" were employed by some protesters, with some using devices that could "lock on" to a location, making it difficult for them to be removed by emergency services personnel. Police will now have the power to search people for such devices, which were made illegal. It was also announced that those caught protesting on farmland could now be punished with up to a year in prison.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you Thursday.

[Theme ends]

As the Andrews government attempts to negotiate treaty with First Nations people in Victoria, it is proceeding with a plan to bulldoze hundreds of sacred Djab Wurrung trees. At the same time, Crown land that might have been part of treaty has been sold off. Lidia Thorpe on the campaign to protect her people’s heritage.

Guest: Djab Wurrung traditional owner and former Victorian state MP Lidia Thorpe.

Background reading:

Protecting the Djab Wurrung trees in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

Listen and subscribe in your favourite podcast app (it's free).

Apple podcasts Google podcasts Listen on Spotify

Share:

7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

Tags

djabwurrung birthingtrees victoria andrews roads indigenous




Subscribe to hear every episode in your favourite podcast app:
Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify

00:00
17:33
62: Saving the birthing trees