Traditional owners and protestors from the Djab Wurrung Embassy have clashed with police and workers outside of Ararat this week, following the felling of trees for the $157 million Western Highway duplication project.
The event prompted the local state MP to ask the protesters to listen to the Ararat community and let the project go ahead.
Speaking to the Ararat Advertiser, Zellanach Djab Mara said police, protesters and workers faced-off on Tuesday.
"Today the same thing happened that has been going on for the past three years; agencies continue to do the wrong thing without consent," Zellanach Djab Mara said.
"People call this protesting; we call it holding standing our ground on our country until we get full autonomy.
"We've been here for almost three years now, and particular agencies still haven't been willing to come and sit on our country and have that dialogue."
Traditional owners and supporters have been camped at the site between Ararat and Buangor since June 2018.
The embassy exists to protect about 3000 trees of various sizes and ages have been marked for removal along the duplication route, including several scar trees, birthing trees and other culturally modified trees.
Zallanach Djab Mar said as the leader of the Djab Wurrung Embassy, it was his role to ensure the safety of the sacred site.
"As the chief of the tribe here, it's my responsibility to ensure that there is proper dialogue for each and every individual within the 12 claims of the tribal society of this country," he said.
"There are particular elderly people, who are not elders of our country, have given consent.
"We want the highway, but let's fix where it is going. Right now, it's going through old Ghiran station, which has an old bluestone house that my great-great-great grandfather used to live in before they shipped us mob off to Framlingham mission and whatnot.
"We still want people coming through and help the economy in town.
"We know there's seven generations of families who lived on Djab Wurrung country; we don't want to kick anyone out."
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Louise Staley, the State member for Ripon, said the stalemate is hurting Ararat and the greater community.
"Overwhelmingly, people want this road built. They are sick of this," Ms Staley said.
"I can guarantee you that north of 90 per cent of Ararat wants this road built. I think it's six years overdue."
Ms Staley noted she attended the funding announcement of the Western Highway duplication in 2014 before she became a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly.
"In 2014, I remember standing - opposite where the camp is now - with Dan Tehan (Federal member for Wannon), Scotty Turner (National Party candidate for Ripon) and Denis Napthine (then-Victorian premier), announcing funding for the next stage of the road.
"(Since then) these people have had multiple court cases, they've had the Ombudsman in investigate the claims, and they've had the private court cases.
"Yes, they've won on process a couple of times in the federal court against the federal Environment Minister, but they haven't won on her power to do this. They've won on process.
"No matter what anybody does to attempt to come to a reasonable settlement, in the way that both Eastern Maar (Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation) has done, these people won't do that - they're just not reasonable."
There are particular elderly people, who are not elders of our country, have given consent.Zellanach Djab Mar
Ms Staley said the suggestion the Western Highway duplication could move north on an alternative route is no longer viable.
"They keep talking about the Northern option, but it's not an option," she said.
"It was rejected by engineers; it is a very big and expensive issue, and there are flow-on effects.
"For example, there are people with Great Western that have got pegs ('For Sale' signs) in the ground that have been there for years.
"They can't sell their property, because they (the Victorian government) haven't got on with the next section."
A spokesperson from Victoria police declined to comment on the event; however, no arrests were made on the day.
A state government spokesperson said it is vital for the safety of the community that the Western Highway upgrade is completed.
"With more than 100 crashes on the Western Highway in recent years, including 11 deaths, we're getting on with this urgent safety upgrade that will save lives," the spokesperson said.
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"We've listened to Aboriginal voices every step of the way - the project's design has been approved by both relevant Traditional Owner Groups, an independent Environmental Effects Statement process, the Supreme Court, the Federal Environment Minister and the Victorian Ombudsman."
"It's time for the handful of protesters to allow us to get on with the urgently needed safety upgrade."
In 2019, Djab Wurrung Elder Aunty Sandra Onus said that the Indigenous group was not against the highway's development.
"We would just like the general public to know that we're not against development as such, but we offered an alternative that was not taken up," Aunty Sandra said.
"It was another (option) of re-routing the road and not destroying the trees or the hills, thus interfering with those song lines."
For more than 60,000 years, songlines formed a significant part of Indigenous Australian culture, providing an oral history of substantial locations and events within the region, passed down from elder to elder.
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