• Zellanach Djab Mara and his wife Amanda. (NITV)
Djab Wurrung protector Zellanach Djab Mara was held in remand for 26 days for driving without a valid license, but traditional owners from the area say his arrest was politically motivated.
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV News
27 May 2019 - 10:07 PM  UPDATED 27 May 2019 - 10:07 PM

Mr Djab Mara's release has been hailed a victory for traditional owners fighting to save ancient trees on Djab Wurrung country from being bulldozed for an extension of the western highway in Victoria. 

The 33-year-old has been a key figure in the ongoing battle, which reached a head in June last year as the Djab Wurrung Embassy was set up outside Ararat to prevent action from Major Road Projects Victoria. 

Earlier this month Mr Djab Mara was arrested for failing to attend court on charges of driving without a valid license and verbally disrespecting a police officer, however the latter charge has since been dropped. 

Mr Djab Mara was released after pleading guilty in the Ararat Magistrate's Court on Monday with the magistrate conceding that 26 days already served was too long a sentence for a minor offence, and no fine was applied. 

Mr Djab Mara fist pumped the air as he walked outside of the police station and embraced his mother and wife. Speaking to NITV News he said he was determined to get back on country.

"This is the system at its finest, this is the system of oppression towards our people: of denial of our culture, of denial of our human right, our sovereign right," he said.

"At the same time I'm just thankful to be with my family so that I can go on and continue to effect change within our community and become a really strong leader." 

Mr Djab Mara's supporters have camped outside of Melbourne Assessment Prison for the past three weeks in solidarity with him. Many have claimed his arrest was politically motivated, saying it was a strategic move to "get him off country".

Mr Djab Mara said he will continue to fight for the protection of trees on his country. On Monday afternoon he headed straight from the courthouse to the Djab Wurrung Embassy outside of Ararat where he initiated a smoking.

Earlier this year some of the sacred trees were formally identified as culturally significant and plans for the road were altered, but the traditional owners say they want several others protected as well. 

While there were attempts to begin construction earlier this year, a stop works order has since been put in place until all court matters relating to the project are heard. 

Protectors will return to court on June 12 where they will appeal the decision of former federal environment minister Melissa Price to let the project go ahead. 

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