The government of Victoria, Australia, isn’t making any new friends this week. Widespread outrage was sparked after it cut down a tree that was culturally significant to Australia’s Indigenous Djab Wurrung women. The yellow box tree was known as a “directions tree,” and was cut down on Monday to make room for a highway. According to the government, the tree was not listed as requiring protection.
Crowds of protesters have descended on the site, and police have made over 50 arrests. Among those arrested were two legal observers, who showed up to ensure police complied with the law, as well as several Aboriginal land protectors.
The Guardian reported that one of the legal observers stated that the police “started making really violent arrests, grabbing people by the head; four cops on top of one person. It then stopped for a bit, while they were deciding on who to arrest next…They then came up to me and told me I would be arrested if I didn’t move on. I agreed to move on. They then arrested me immediately despite my compliance.”
A police spokesperson said the officers were just protecting contractors working at the site, and that many protesters refused to vacate a restricted access area.
A local, Sissy Austin, said, “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.”
The beautiful tree in this image is no longer physically with us and I am heart broken 💔 pic.twitter.com/1OldJCh8n8
— Eileen Sissy Austin (@EileenSissy) October 26, 2020
Direction trees are thought to be the place where women gave birth hundreds of years ago. Placentas were mixed with seed and buried under the roots, tying the tree to the child’s life.
Sadly, although a deal was struck between the government and the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation to protect 15 trees, this particular one was not among them.