This week saw controversy and anger when a Djab Wurrung tree was chainsawed for road works for the duplication of the Western Highway.

Daylesford has a longstanding association with the ongoing protests to protect the trees threatened by the road works.

Famously,  the photo of then 91 year old Daylesford resident Isabel Mackenzie chained to one of the threatened trees went viral around the world in 2015. Ms Mackenzie died in 2017.

Ms Mackenzie’s raised her family of five children on near where the ancient trees grow.

Local Liz Burns is also has a longstanding commitment to protecting the trees. She said, “I initially go involved to help a couple of friends save their family farm from fragmentation and to preserve its environmental assets. I only ever saw myself as a supporter and protector – never and activist nor protester. In the process I discovered young Djab Wurrung women and their children were reconnecting to there ancestral lands.”

Gil Trebilcock, one of the lead activists has been involved in this issue for several years. 

The road works are part of a safety upgrade for the Highway where there have been a number of deaths in recent years. Claims about road safety have been disputed.

A number of culturally significant trees have been saved through negotiations between the Victorian Government and the traditional owners of the land. The State Government maintains it has worked closely with the Indigenous community. 

But a number of mature trees, many over a 100 years old, including yellow box and fiddle backs, are still condemned to destruction. 

Protesters who have been camped at the site to protect the trees of cultural significance, were removed earlier this week and the Directions Tree was cut down. A dramatic increase in community awareness and concern followed.

In response, the State Government offered a compromise to scale back work for two weeks. Protesters rejected the action and took the State Government to the Supreme Court this week to seek an injunction.

Ron Merkel QC acting for Marjorie Thorpe, a Gunnai and MarMaar woman, won a three week injunction to stop further road works that could harm the trees.

Controversy over the Djab Wurrung trees raises broader issues for Hepburn about the protection of local indigenous heritage, including local trees. There are many culturally significant sites around the local area. Barry Golding’s researchhas identified a number of these sites.

There is an opportunity for future Council Reconciliation Action plans to identify, promote and protect significant local indigenous heritage in partnership with our local traditional owners, the Dja Dja Wurrung people.

It would be a great shame if the destruction on the Western Highway is not a lesson for everyone for the future.