The Djab Wurrung people around the Halls Gap (Budja Budja) area near Ararat in Victoria, have been defending their sacred trees for almost a year now. They have been trying to stop VicRoads from destroying them, while building an extension to the Western Highway.
Supporters from the wider community have been turning up and helping out the local First Australians, and the Victorian Trades Hall Council, representing the unions in the state, is also giving its support.
A continuous Heritage Protection Embassy and defence camps have been established on the site. People are turning up every day, to help prevent the works from taking place. A few attempts to clear them away and and start the works have been stopped. Police sent in have had to turn back, in the face of the numbers ans determination of those they were supposed to deal with.
This has created a standoff.
In what looks like an effort to break the impasse, leading figure of the Djab Wurrung, D T Zellanach, was arrested and incarcerated without bail ten days ago, over minor charges of driving with an expired license and using disrespecting language against police.
Charges like this, would normally result in a summons and subsequent fine, if found guilty in court. Imposing bail, an especially a police application for non-release and having this granted by the court is highly unusual.
In the opinion of the defenders of the sacred trees, this has been done to get him out of the way, cause confusion, and make it easier for the construction crew to get in. Zellanach’s case has been listed for 27 May.
A vigil calling for the release of Zellanach is being maintained outside the Melbourne Assessment Prison, where he was before the move.
It is understood that he has now been sent to Ravenhall prison at Carrum Downs. This is further away from his supporters
Friends of the Earth is circulating as petition calling for the proper application of due process, allowing proper access to his family and a speedy release, in line with what is normal with minor charges. The petition will be sent to Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews and Police minister Lisa Neville.
An earlier agreement reached with VicRoad’s Major Roads Projects Victoria, where it was specified that the extension would be re-routed to spare the trees has been reneged on, according to the defenders.
It’s to get him off country,” charged spokesperson Jayden Reiher, adding that this is a strategy “of the authorities, government and corporate bodies at play to…make the defence camps more vulnerable.
But the camps are really strong. If anything, it’s given us a sense of urgency and we are ready …”
This battle is far from over yet.