The Victorian government has cut down a centuries-old tree in order to make way for a highway upgrade project, despite activists protesting in a bid to protect the significant location.
The yellow box, known as the directions tree, was culturally significant to Djab Wurrung women. The 350-year-old tree came from a time when each Djab Wurrung child had their own tree, and the child's placenta was mixed with the seed of the tree, making it the child's own "directions tree", per The Age.
Djab Wurrung country, along Victoria’s Western Highway, the main road linking Melbourne to Adelaide, has been a protest camp for over 12 months, with members of the community calling for it to be protected.
The Victorian government has since defended the tree's removal, saying it was not marked as requiring protection in an agreement with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation and was not the sacred directions tree that is now subject to federal court action.
The state authorities say the highway upgrade is an attempt to make it safer, with the route having suffered several fatal crashes over the years.
The news was met with outrage and grief from the Aboriginal community and beyond.
Local woman Sissy Austin wrote to Twitter: “I can feel the chainsaws tearing through my heart, my spirit, my Djap Wurrung body is in pain. Today I laid on the floor and cried. Cried for our mother, Djap Wurrung Country.”
Lidia Thorpe, the first Aboriginal Victorian Senator and a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman, said the destruction of the tree was particularly devastating, as it was completed the same day Premier Daniel Andrews announced the end of COVID-19 lockdowns across the state.
"Today Dan Andrews tore down an ancient ancestor tree, Djab Wurrung people and country have been violated once again," Thorpe wrote. "Couldn’t kill us, So they’ll kill everything else that keeps us alive."
Gunai and Gunditjamara woman, Meriki Onus, echoed the same sentiments, claiming the actions showed Aboriginal Victorians “we don’t matter to the colony”.
Earlier this year, the Djab Wurrung filed proceedings against federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for a third time, according to The Age, and called for work to be halted until the matter was resolved.
Members of the community want to protect thousands of trees and vegetation along the proposed highway route, including a 700-year-old eucalypt known as the “grandfather” tree.