• The Djab Wurrung Directions Tree (Supplied/Sean Paris)Source: Supplied/Sean Paris
The Juukan Gorge Inquiry into the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites continues to hear submissions from around the nation.
Bernadette Clarke

19 Mar 2021 - 11:38 PM  UPDATED 19 Mar 2021 - 11:38 PM

The Juukan Gorge Inquiry into the destruction of Aboriginal cultural heritage sites continued on Friday with the committee hearing a range of submissions from around Australia, including one concerning the Djab Wurrung trees under threat from a highway upgrade in western Victoria. 

Representatives of the Djab Wurrung Traditional Owners and the Victorian Traditional Owners Land and Justice Group spoke via teleconference.

Djab Wurrung woman Sissy Eileen Austin told the inquiry of the emotional burden she has experienced with the removal of a 'Directions Tree' to make room for the highway duplication project.

Ms Austin said that Djab Wurrung Elders had been fighting for "generations and generations".

"It's 2021 now, Victoria claims to be progressive in that within establishing a treaty... it's traumatic being Djab Wurrung women having to convince a very male dominated legal system of the significance and the importance of women's Country to us," she said.

Ms Austin said the destruction on Djab Wurrung Country had affected her mental health and stressed the significance of the connection Aboriginal people have to Country.

"When I found out about that tree being destroyed I was literally on the floor crying, my mindset instantly wanted to leave a white system," she told the inquiry.

"The long, frustrating, dehumanising fight has taken such a deep toll on all of our spirits, I was in St Vincent's hospital mental health ward on the day that we lost one of the trees... our people value our health and followed the strict (COVID-19) guidelines which meant we couldn't have massive numbers to be on the front line in that moment.

"We're so used to people not understanding our connection to Country... luckily in this case I was wrong and the psychiatrist and the nurse all proved me wrong, they understood the pain I was in... if they can understand and empathise why can't everyone else? Why can't a system that was established to protect Country?"

The inquiry will next look into the how the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has been angered by the state government's control over the sacred Wargata Mina cave despite the sacred site being owned by the Aboriginal community.

Protecting Djab Wurrung cultural landscape: A long fight worth our while
OPINION: Djab Wurrung peoples have been engaged in a sustained act of cultural protection and fight like no other, and one that is grounded in connection and respect for Country, kinship, and community, writes Sissy Austin.