The destruction of a sacred tree on Djab Wurrung country has broken our hearts

Sissy Eileen Austin
·4-min read

On Monday our biggest nightmare became a cold hard reality. The sounds of chainsaws, excessive police force, the crying of children. We felt defeated as an element of our culturally significant landscape was torn away, taken, gone forever. We are the last generation to ever be in the powerful presence of our directions tree on Djab Wurrung country.

Meriki Onus: “I’m really saddened to see the directions tree chopped down. I feel like Victoria are dancing on our graves with doughnuts and whisky.”

Related: 'Chainsaws tearing through my heart': sacred tree cut down to make way for Victorian highway

It has been 862 days since the establishment of the Djab Wurrung heritage protection embassy to protect sacred women’s country from the Victorian government’s Western Highway duplication project in the state’s western district.

Country is who we are, country is what guides us and what grounds us in all that we do as First Nations people. This particular 12km stretch, where the expansion of a road between Melbourne and Adelaide is planned, holds a deep intimate connection for Djab Wurrung women, with birthing trees that are more than 800 years old. Thousands of generations of Djab Wurrung babies have been born in this country.

Over the last two years Djab Wurrung people have risen to protect these trees. Our determination to rise has been fuelled by the deep power our country holds. That power is one that guards our spirit and our soul when coming up against the coloniser.

We are seeing right now the weakness of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act and other associated legislations and incorporated organisations that are creating tidal waves of pain and loss for our people.

Aunty Donna Wright: “When Aboriginal corporations are complicit in the desecration and destruction of sacred sites they need to be held accountable. How can we treaty with a government that destroys our sacred sites?”

Every single person has played a role in getting us to where we are now, giving their blood, sweat and tears. The hours spent in mediation and courts, begging with tears rolling down our faces for an understanding, bodies on the frontline on the hottest days and the coldest nights.

There is this indescribable feeling that comes with attempting to seek justice and empathy from the very same system that was built to destroy. Destroy it did, and destroying it continues to do.

Victoria claims to be progressive in its relationship with Aboriginal people and communities. There are conflicting agendas here, one where the government is supporting the progression of the treaty and the other where they’re comfortable in proceeding with the irreversible destruction of significant cultural heritage.

Our bodies are at one with the country, we can feel the chains of the chainsaw grinding through our souls, our spirits. The sounds of those chainsaws will haunt us forever and be added to the already existing intergenerational trauma shadowing our people. There are no words to describe the emptiness we as Djab Wurrung are feeling right now.

Related: DjabWurrung women are in an abusive relationship with Victoria's government | Sissy Austin

Arika Waulu: “Hearts are broken forever as the world watches sacred birthing sites be erased just like peoples have been. This is one of those National Geographic sick stories your grandchildren will be disappointed in.”

Our hearts are broken, our trust in the “progressive” Andrews government is broken. We are experiencing a loss like no other, with the restrictions of Covid-19 further restraining us from coming together to mourn.

Lidia Thorpe: “My heart is broken and I can’t help to feel betrayed by a government who say they want to treaty with us. Blaming other traditional owners for signing off is a cop-out. The cultural heritage legislation is committing genocide and it needs to be abolished.”

In an attempt to make it through each painful hour of the current days, I am listening deeply to Uncle Kutcha’s song Is This What We Deserve with tears rolling down my face. The lyrics ring so true: “We’ve been here since time began, our ancestors’ footprints buried in the sand, we are but caretakers of this ancient land, but you still don’t understand.” How many more generations of my people will find themselves like us, crying to the songs written by generations before us?

• Sissy Eileen Austin is a Djab Wurrung woman and a member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria