Western Highway duplication protesters claim tree removal moratorium with VicRoads

Tree removals for the Western Highway duplication will not go ahead for at least another month.

That’s according to the activists who have blockaded the project for the past three weeks over Aboriginal heritage concerns.

Aboriginal elder Aunty Sandra Onus said VicRoads attended a meeting on Wednesday in which they made a verbal pledge to postpone tree removals until August 4.

“We don’t have anything in writing. Some of our group met with them in Ballarat,” she said.

“The agreement is until an analysis and excavations can take place.”

Aunty Sandra said Dr Heather Builth would be involved in further study of the trees outside Ararat.

Dr Builth has previously studied eel cultivation by south-west Victorian Aboriginal people.

Her work contributed to an application for UNESCO World Heritage listing for the Budj Bim landscape south-west of Hamilton.

Fairfax Media has been told that VicRoads did attend the meeting, but the road agency would not confirm or deny any deal or its details.

“We’ll continue to work with all relevant parties to get on and deliver this vital upgrade,” VicRoads north western projects director Nigel Powers said.

VicRoads could, in coming days, make a further announcement about the standoff with protesters.   

The $42 million plan to duplicate 12.5 kilometres of the highway from Buangor to Ararat included the removal of 3000 trees.

The duplication is a joint state and federal government project designed to improve safety and freight efficiency.

Activists set up a ‘Djap Wurrung Embassy’ in the path of the works on June 17, claiming some of the trees were culturally significant.

Aunty Sandra said the group was still waiting to hear back from federal Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg after filing an appeal against the tree removals.

She said the protesters had agreed to VicRoads’ request to establish a work camp for the duplication project. 

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