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Djab Wurrung sacred trees and Western Highway expansion, Victoria, Australia

An ongoing dispute over a highway extension in the state of Victoria which would see the cutting down of hundreds of trees culturally significant to the Djap Wurrung people.


Over almost ten years there has been an ongoing dispute over a highway extension in the state of Victoria, where plans include cutting down hundreds of trees culturally significant to the Djap Wurrung people (also Djab Wurrung), First People of the area. Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV), with support of the Victorian Government (and previously VicRoads), are proposing a road duplication project along the Ballarat-Stawell stretch of the Western Highway – a major Australian highway connecting Melbourne and Adelaide [1]. MRPV stated that the main reason for the expansion is a safety upgrade along a stretch which has seen more than 100 crashes and 11 fatalities in recent years and where traffic is expected to double by 2025, according to their predictions [1]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Djab Wurrung sacred trees and Western Highway expansion, Victoria, Australia
State or province:Victoria
Location of conflict:Between Ararat and Buangor
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Deforestation
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Land
Project Details and Actors
Project details

$672 million AUD (around 450 million USD) have been invested in the Highway Duplication project by the Victorian and Australian Federal Government, with the intention of improving road safety and boosting the regional economy in Western Australia, according to MRPV [1]. Latest estimates from MRPV in 2019 predict the project to be completed in 2022 [4], however another source indicates that the project is two years behind schedule, with costs extending by more than $40 million AUD [19].

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Level of Investment for the conflictive project449,961,444.00
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2010
Company names or state enterprises:Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV) from Australia - Project developer
Relevant government actors:Government of Victoria
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Djap Wurrung Embassy (
Victorian Trades Hall Council (
Friends of the Earth Melbourne (
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Djab Wurrung people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:The Djap Wurrung Embassy have held a firm line against the MRPV and Victorian Government stating that they do not intend on compromising on the number of trees that will be cut down and call for the current extension route to be cancelled. They have proposed an alternative route using the space below already existing power lines, however this alternative has been rejected by MRPV and the government who have said that the change would require cutting down vegetation in a nearby State Park area and the space below the power lines would not be suitable to carry high-speed traffic [8, 19]. However, according to a former VicRoads adviser, the government could have saved much money, time and distress if proper investigations into alternative routes had taken place, particularly the ‘northern route’ proposed by landowners and traditional owners [19]. Furthermore, a group of researchers have suggested that road safety could be better achieved through the reduction of freight traffic on roads by replacing it with freight rail [11].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Much points to environmental justice not being served in this ongoing dispute. Protesters at the Djap Wurrung Embassy continue to push for heritage protection of the sacred trees on Country and have voiced frustration with the lack of respectful recognition of Aboriginal sovereignty. It remains to be seen how MRPV and the Victorian government will continue with their pursuit of the disputed section of the highway duplication.
Sources & Materials

[4] Johnson, S. and Bell, Sarah Jane (2019) 'Victoria's Western Highway upgrade stalls again after Federal Court upholds appeal over sacred indigenous trees.’ ABC News, 06/12/19.
[click to view]

[4] Johnson, S. and Bell, Sarah Jane (2019) 'Victoria's Western Highway upgrade stalls again after Federal Court upholds appeal over sacred indigenous trees.’ ABC News, 06/12/19.
[click to view]

[5] MRPV (2018) ‘Work suspended on Western Highway pending federal heritage assessment.’ MRPV website, 07/08/18.
[click to view]

[6] MRPV (2019) 'Western Highway project welcomes Eastern Maar support.’ MRPV website, 13/05/19.
[click to view]

[7] Cunningham, S. (2019) ‘The Djab Wurrung Birthing Tree.’ The Monthly, July 2019.
[click to view]

[8] Grieve, C. (2019) ‘”We all have to compromise”: Western Highway works to start in days.’ The Age, 03/10/19.
[click to view]

[9] Hayman-Reber, M. (2019) ‘No trees, no treaty: protesters continue to amass at Djab Wurrung site.’ NITV News, 21/08/19.
[click to view]

[10] Hayman-Reber, M. (2018) ‘Victorian Treaty Bill passes through the Upper House.’ NITV News, 21/06/18.
[click to view]

[11] Porter, L., Raheem, A., Verlie, B. et al (2019) ‘What kind of state values a freeway’s heritage above the heritage of our oldest living culture?’ The Conversation, 22/08/19.
[click to view]

[15] Truu, M. (2019) ‘Victorian union movement joins fight to save 800-year-old Indigenous trees.’ SBS News, 25/08/19.
[click to view]

[16] Hall, B. (2019) ‘Temporary reprieve for ancient Djab Wurrung trees.’ The Age, 13/09/19.
[click to view]

[18] Steele, W. and Maloney, M. (2019) ‘Churches have legal rights in Australia. Why not sacred trees?’ The Conversation, 05/11/19.
[click to view]

[19] Jacks, T. (2019) 'Cheaper Western Highway route overlooked, former VicRoads adviser says.’ The Age, 20/08/19.
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[12] petition (n.d.) ‘Protect sacred Djab Wurrung birthing trees from expansion of the Western Hwy by Vicroads.’
[click to view]

[13] ‘Sacred trees VS a freeway bypass: The fight for Indigenous land.’ [Video] The Feed, 23/07/19.
[click to view]

[17] FoE Melbourne (n.d.) ‘Stop Works on Djap Wurrung Land.’
[click to view]

Other documents

MRPV project map Accessed from: (05/03/20)
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Louisa Mathies, EJ Atlas, ICTA-UAB
Last update08/03/2020
Conflict ID:4954
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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