The fight for Djab Wurrung

1 Jun 2021

Djab Wurrung woman Sissy Austin tells us that despite losing an element of our country, the fight continues this week with the three day Supreme Court trial.

The theme for NAIDOC this year is ‘Heal Country’ – the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of the NAIDOC theme is the continued fight to save Djab Wurrung Country. 

Since 2018 my Djab Wurrung Aunties, Uncles, Sisters, Brothers have been fighting to save sacred women’s country from the Victorian State Governments ‘Western Highway Duplication Project’, this has all been done with allies standing by our side consistently for over three years now, including our legal team, who have played an integral role in our multifaceted fight to save country. 

In 2018 – Djab Wurrung Peoples responded to the threat of our country being destroyed. Aunty Tracey Onus stood underneath one of the 800 plus year old birthing trees and set up a little blue tent. Aunty then requested cardboard and a texta, which she then wrote “Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy”, in this moment the fight would begin. 

Following the historic declaration of this embassy, the site was then visited by thousands of people from all over the world, the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy not only served its purpose of protecting 800 plus year old birthing trees and culturally significant surrounds, it also became a gathering place and a place of healing, a place that fueled our Djab Wurrung Bodies to fight to protect with everything we had, emotionally, spiritually, physically. 

When being present at the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy you witnessed the expressions of culture and had the privilege of yarning with Djab Wurrung peoples, you also felt the underlying sadness and anxiety of the idea of losing the fight, as well as the daily drive byes of individuals hurling racial violence out of their cars as they drove by the embassy. 

In October 2020 the long anticipated Victorian COVID-19 lockdown was lifted, on the very same day we experienced an irreversible loss, the felling of the directions tree on Djab Wurrung Country. Personally, at the time, I was within my first ever admission to a mental health ward, due to a severe mental break-down. I remember vividly being in my room at the St Vincent’s Mental Health Ward when news broke of our directions tree being savagely bulldozed, chain sawed, gone forever.   

I don’t think anything could have been worse in that moment – I expected that the staff looking after me at the St Vincent’s Mental Health Ward wouldn’t empathize with the reasoning as to why my broken Djab Wurrung body was curled into a ball crying on the floor. I was surprised and on reflection incredible grateful for the love, care and understanding I received during that moment in my life, particularly from the psychiatrist who ensured I felt safe and secure.

Following the felling of the directions tree, I found myself pacing up and down the court-yard of the mental health ward, reflecting on my position as’ South West Elected Member’ to the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria, the most important thing to me in that moment was my commitment to my community, this commitment consisted of stepping off the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria if the Victorian Government destroyed Djab Wurrung Country (as stated in my maiden speech). That night, 24 hours after the felling of the direction tree, I went live on social media from my room at the mental health ward (unbeknownst to anyone at the time) and declared that I would be stepping off the assembly. 

We hear a lot about the layers of trauma Aboriginal people carry on a daily basis, this must be understood by all, and to heal these layers of trauma we need country, country as a whole, not just one element, the entirety of what makes country, country. 

Despite losing an element of our country, the fight continues this week with the three day Supreme Court trial. Over the last three years, there have been mediations, court hearings and requests for compromise. These compromises consist of the Victorian State Government attempting to force Djab Wurrung Peoples to allow for the destruction of country. Compromises cannot be made. The elements of country cannot be placed in hierarchical order, they never have and never will never be. 

Djab Wurrung Country is healing from its destruction last year, and we as a people are healing too. We call on all allies to continue standing by our side. There is unfathomable healing needed for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ and we know that country is our healing remedy. We must continue fighting for the protection of our sacred sites, as well as fighting the effects of climate change. 

In summary, despite the Djab Wurrung Protection Embassy being physically destroyed/dismantled by The Victorian State Government, the spirit that fueled the embassy is on fire like never before. To heal on country, we must fight for our rights to country, with the hope that generations to come will rightfully have the freedom to access their country to heal, grow and thrive. 

Sissy is wearing Minority Co jumper, purchase yours here.

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