This Land Is a Sanctuary for Aboriginal Women. Bulldozers May Soon Come.

DJAB WURRUNG COUNTRY, Australia — For dozens of generations, this serene stretch in the highlands of southeastern Australia has been a sanctuary for the women of the Djab Wurrung people, where babies were delivered in the hollows of majestic birthing trees and the placentas were planted nearby to imbue saplings with their spirit.

“This is it. This is our women’s safe place. The creational place,” said Zellanach Djab Mara, 33, a Djab Wurrung cultural “lore man.”

Soon, though, bulldozers may arrive on this sacred ground, as the state government in Victoria moves ahead with a long-delayed plan to widen a highway. Dozens of protesters have camped along a roughly seven-mile strip for more than a year, demanding that the project be canceled. But late last week, after the federal environment minister had denied their claim, the demonstrators were told they had 14 days to leave.

If the land is destroyed, said Sandra Onus, a Djab Wurrung elder, it will be “the end of many things for us culturally.”

Mr. Djab Mara, who has been one of the protest leaders along with his wife, Amanda Mahomet, since being called by elders 14 months ago, said he had welcomed thousands of people who wanted to learn more about Djab Wurrung culture.

But others said they supported the Djab Wurrung people’s right to protest. “I think it’s great that we have a country where people can state what they want,” said Jackie Grimmer, 72.

On one recent afternoon, carfuls of people — some bringing supplies, some just curious — showed up every few hours at the gate to what the protesters call the Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy.

Mr. Djab Mara greeted them by burning cherry ballart leaves to cleanse their spirits. Then his partner, Ms. Mahomet, an Arrernte woman, invited the young visitors to view the same tree Ms. Jakobi had unknowingly driven by all her life.

Ms. Mahomet crouched to explain, as she had many times before, how during winter, as it was now, a fire would have been lit inside for the women about to give birth. “It has an energy that doesn’t translate into photos,” one young woman said, touching a branch.

“She’s glad everyone’s here, and she knows everyone’s here,” Ms. Mahomet said of the tree. “She’s just sick and tired.”

Sahred From Source link World News

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