Halt the highway works
I wrote the following letter to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.
Mr Andrews, I request your urgent attention to a matter of importance to the state of Victoria.
In the interests of creating a better future for us all, you must halt the Buangor Highway route and, with the help of Aboriginal people, approve either the northern or southern bypass of the Buangor Living Cultural Camp area, just east of Ararat. Immediate action is required.
The route proposed, through Buangor via Ballarat and onto Stawell, will destroy a remnant patch of bushland, 14 kilometres long. This area is not only a wildlife haven and one that is full of sacred sites, but it is also a living story book, enabling its traditional people to learn from the past in an unprecedented fashion.
There is almost nothing like it from Framlingham on the south coast to Ararat. All of the precious occupancy sites between this are, either, denuded of native vegetation and fauna grazed by sheep or they have been destroyed.
Unexpectedly, my household received an invitation to attend a healing ceremony on January 27 at the western camp on this site. I am a Doctor of Philosophy, with training in ecology and also forestry.
Just one of the outstanding features on this site is a gnarl-forming tree that produces a wadeye that would have been incredibly useful to the mens hunting. I have never seen a similar artefact tree anywhere in Australia. On our way home, we also saw two red parrots. Not rosellas these were birds I had never seen before, either.
The camp was clean, and the people there, under the leadership of Zellanach, were welcoming and very lucid in explaining the importance of this site, in the past and to them today.
The spirit of the land is alive and well on this country.
The section I visited is womens country, however many men, led by Zellanach (traditional owner) and Seiki, have elected to help the women in their determination to protect it forever.
80,000 people could march in its defence. The message stick has been sent. It is a site of a meandering waterline between hills, abundant with native life.
The slim stretch of remnant forest includes birthing trees, sorry sites (burial grounds, the men and women now there also know where the people who had made this area their home for thousands of years were slaughtered in the days of Colonial takeover), and it tells a living story of how life was lived for all those thousands of years.
The indices include the scars on trees, the patches of grass used for making flour, midden heaps and so forth.
While there is forested country to the north and to the west the less disturbed woodlands stretching to the Grampians this particular area would have had permanent freshwater. So, it would have been permanently occupied for tens of thousands of years.
One of its defenders plans, with draft courses now under construction, is to invite the school children of the district to learn about Aboriginal culture through short visits. It is also intended that older students, VCE-level, interested in history and social justice, can be invited to swag there for several days and experience more intensive learning. It may also be useful for the troublesome-aged year nine boys to commence learning modern and traditional mens business.
This very rare opportunity for our community to engage with living culture will also be lost forever if this site is bulldozed. And alarmingly, Vic Roads looks set to do that very soon, with bulldozers being seen nearby on Tuesday of this week.
For Aboriginal people, this is not a landgrab, their intention is not to thwart progress.
They simply ask that the government take a route of lesser-hurt (for all the land is sacred to Aboriginal ways of thinking it nurtures us. Look after the land and it will look after you).
Aboriginal people do not own the land, they belong to it. Theirs is a far more profound relationship than titled ownership.
For some of them having committed to becoming this stretch of lands modern-world guardians its fate will be theirs.
Havent we had enough Aboriginal blood shed in this land?
And you, as Premier, what are you going to add to your list of achievements in the office of such distinction?
The protection of a living cultural camp, a storybook, kindly opened by those who know its language for us all to learn from, a story that stretches for 14 kilometres and goes back in time for sixty or seventy thousand years?
Will you keep it open for future generations to enjoy, to grow-up in? Or will you allow VicRoads to simply toss it aside.
It will be another nail in the coffin of the white mans world that so callously disregards its dependence on the natural world, if you do so.
All good leaders have an obligation to make the future better than the past.
Please share this letter with your Cabinet and with the VicRoads teams.
These brave people should be honoured and paid for their work of protecting this site of extreme significance, not persecuted as criminals.
You and your government have the choice of either preserving the past to create a better future for us all to learn more about genuine sustainability and respect for this lands living treasures or to destroy more of it under layers of gravel and bitumen for the sake of providing a route for travel that will, within fifty years, be superseded and made redundant by better railways and hydrogen-fuelled flying cars.
Please take us all into a better future.
Dr Bernardine Atkinson, Lake Bolac