Lidia Thorpe - Speech in Parliament: My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Roads and Road Safety, and the action I seek from the minister is that he immediately halt the destruction of the sacred red gum trees along the Western Highway at Langi Ghiran and that he sit down with the community to find an alternative route for the road that will cause minimal environmental and cultural damage.
In recent days I travelled to Tjapwurrung country — my country — to see for myself the over 260 sacred red gum trees at Langi Ghiran that are proposed to be cut down for the widening of the Western Highway. I was horrified that these ancient trees that are so sacred to my people could be destroyed for something as trivial as a road widening. Some of these red gums are known as birthing trees to over 50 families of the Tjapwurrung. Our blood runs through them, and the trees carry our songlines.
They have also been used by Aboriginal families for shelter and for baking tubers and other food in earth ovens. These enormous trees are up to 800 years old. They are four times older than any church in Australia and just as sacred to my people, yet this government is treating them as expendable and completely trivialising their significance.
It is frustrating and contradictory that this government claims to be moving forward with treaty in recognition of the huge injustices against Aboriginal peoples on the one hand, when on the other it is completely disrespecting us and tearing up our sacred cultural sites.
Not only are these old-growth red gum trees culturally sacred but they are also part of the critically endangered box gum grassy woodlands listed in the commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which are habitat to at least two endangered species, including the golden sun moth.
I recognise and express my deep appreciation to the local community, who have been protesting the removal of these and 3000 other trees since 2015. We need to find another way forward for this road, and this time the community must be involved in any planning options and decision on an alternative route.