The Supreme Court has ordered that works on Victoria's Western Highway threatening culturally significant trees be suspended, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The injunction comes as a result of an action against the Victorian government led by Djab Wurrung woman and traditional owner Marjorie Thorpe (the mother of Senator Lidia Thorpe).
The recent destruction of a 350-year-old "directions tree" in October 2020 – around the time Victoria's lockdown came to an end – brought about widespread protest. The tree was so sacred to the Djab Wurrung community that one academic likened its removal to watching the Notre Dame burn.
So in some long-awaited good news, the Victorian Supreme Court has ruled that protection of the remaining Djab Wurrung trees will be granted until there's a full trial in February.
The decision handed down yesterday not only blocks the cutting-down of the six trees labelled as E1 to E6 in legal docs, but also the area around the trees. "I am satisfied that there is evidence of physical features of cultural heritage importance within the landscape of the specified area more broadly than the six identified trees and the focus areas," Justice Jacinta Forbes said.
The case to be heard will determine whether the tree felling is lawful under the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Act of 2006.
"The defendants concede that in relation to the six trees there is a serious question to be tried. Firstly that concession accepts that there is a prima facie case in relation to the six trees each being an Aboriginal place, at least for present purposes," Justice Forbes continued.
"At this stage there is a real question to be tried as to whether Aboriginal places have been identified throughout the area so that the harm that they may suffer is managed to be avoided or minimised in accordance with the Act, and done so in a way approved by statute and thereby rendered lawful."
While the decision is welcome news, it's far from being a decisive victory. Until the matter goes to trial in February 2021, the fate of Djab Wurrung trees remains to be seen.
Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer at MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank