Australian authorities cut down a sacred tree Monday despite dozens of protesters gathering near the Aboriginal landmark.
Activists said the tree was a “Directions Tree” sacred to the Djab Wurrung people, the Sidney Morning Herald reported. In Djab Wurrung tradition, they would bury a child’s placenta with the seed of a tree, and that tree would become the child’s personal “directions tree.”
But the Australian state of Victoria is trying to expand a highway about 120 miles west of Melbourne in the country’s southeastern corner, and that area is home to dozens of sacred Djab Wurrung trees, according to the Morning Herald.
Authorities said 11 people have died in more than 100 crashes on the Western Highway in the past seven years.
The highway expansion was planned through important Djab Wurrung land, so Victoria’s government cut a deal with Djab Wurrung leaders in 2019 to spare at least 15 sacred trees, the Herald reported. The tree felled Monday was not on that list.
In fact, Victorian leaders argued that it was not a sacred tree at all, according to the Australian Broadcast Corporation. They said experts determined the tree “is highly unlikely to predate European settlement” and that Djab Wurrung elders had not marked it as sacred. The Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation, which cut the 2019 deal, agreed.
But around 60 Djab Wurrung activists and supporters were arrested after they gathered to defend the tree, attempting to stop its destruction until they were physically removed from the area, the Morning Herald reported. They also demonstrated in defense of other trees near the planned highway.
The first Aboriginal woman in Victoria’s legislature, Lidia Thorpe, joined protesters Tuesday.
The Djab Wurrung have filed a third legal appeal to halt the progress of the highway, the Morning Herald reported.
Australia’s government said it’s passed every legal hurdle to build the road and will continue construction.
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