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Tragic absurdity on the Western Highway

  • 23 August 2019


When we turned off the Western Highway into the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy it was dead dark. We were welcomed with cups of tea straight off the communal fire, a place to sleep, explanations of where it was culturally inappropriate to tread and an update on the pending eviction of the Embassy by Major Road Projects Victoria. The resident possum came down from the grandfather tree to get his night feed and we rolled into our sleeping bags not knowing whether the police would appear overnight or in the morning. At dawn police didn't arrive, but many supporters did.

The Embassy was set up 18 months ago to protect more than 260 sacred and ancient trees that were marked to be destroyed so the Western Highway can be widened. After less than 12 hours at the Embassy it was evident that viewing this issue through the narrow lens of a fight about some trees and a widening highway misses the bigger, national story. The eviction threat galvanised and consolidated a movement that understands Aboriginal culture and law matter, and that our common future rests upon recognising that we all rely on the health and genuine recognition of country in its fullest sense.

The way decisions about water, trees, minerals, eco-system protection and infrastructure are made in non-Indigenous Australia governance systems are evidently broken: from Adani to the Murray Darling Basin to fracking to the Great Barrier Reef. Unless we believe the profit imperative is the sole consideration these decisions are often legally absurd. The circuitous reasoning and convoluted governance structures that support such decisions sometimes smell of corruption and at other times don't make any sense.

The next morning, standing under ancient trees denied heritage protection, we heard that the Eastern Freeway will be heritage listed. The cognitive dissonance was intense, but our Indigenous friends seemed unmoved. For them, absurd government decisions have been informing and oppressing their lives, laws and country for more than 230 years: from terrra nullius to the NT intervention to the public drunkenness laws. By no means do they normalise this absurdity, but intimately experience it continually and inter-generationally.

In the age of climate change, where destruction of eco-systems and atmospheres is occurring at a fast rate and sanctioned by governments, these absurdities are lethal for collective humanity. The non-Indigenous support for the Embassy and the trees reflects a desire to reverse the absurd lie that human culture