Djab Wurrung elder Marjorie Thorpe welcomes management plan for Western Highway project

A Djab Wurrung woman who led a Supreme Court fight to protect culturally significant trees along the Western Highway duplication project will not pursue the matter further after the state government announced it will develop a cultural management plan. 

Marjorie Thorpe claims the state of Victoria felled a sacred tree on Djab Wurrong land in 2020 for the project, and that the project threatened more culturally significant trees between Ararat and Buangor.

Last November the Supreme Court dismissed the suit and the state government has since announced it will find a new plan for the project and develop a new Cultural Heritage Management Plan.

Ms Thorpe announced on Tuesday she will not appeal or pursue the matter further.

She called the development a “win” for her “community and ancestors”.

She said the move would allow her to sue the state if they did not comply with the cultural plan.

Protesters set up camp along a section of the Western Highway as part of demonstrations.(ABC Ballarat: Dominic Cansdale)

“It also reserves my rights to review the new Cultural Heritage Management Plan once is it complete to ensure it is legal and complies with cultural heritage legislation,” Ms Thorpe said.

“Tjapwurong people have lost many of our stories about the trees as a result of colonisation and dispossession, but that makes the surviving stories of special importance.

“I hope that this time around, the rights of our people and the remains of this precious heritage can be protected.”

Calls for more transparency

Major Road Projects Victoria (MRPV) is preparing the new Cultural Heritage Management Plan to allow the re-commencement of the works.

MRPV says it acknowledges Ms Thorpe’s decision to halt proceedings against the state.

Ripon MP Louise Staley has called for more transparency on any project updates.

“It’s very frustrating that we are not seeing any movement on this project. I understand the government is going back and getting a second cultural heritage study done,” Ms Staley said.

“That has been going on for a long time and we’re not getting updates. The government should provide the people of the region update.

“We’ve been waiting since 2014 for this road to be duplicated. We’re seeing delay after delay after delay.”

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