Ararat locals have been debating the Western Highway Duplication between Ararat and Buangor for 15 months, criticising the state government, Major Road Projects Victoria, each other and the traditional landowners.
The debate has fired up more recently due to the recommencement of works following an unsuccessful bid by the Djab Wurrung Embassy to halt the project. The protesters camped on the site were handed an eviction notice which has since expired, but no action has yet been taken by authorities.
One Ararat resident, Sarah Hamilton, reached a point this week where she needed to rally together supporters of Djab Wurrung people to start stamping out the hate and racist comments being directed towards them.
“What really prompted me was the arson incident (tree fire at Dobie) that occurred on Monday, it just really made me think and feel a need to connect locally with people who felt the same,” Hamilton said.
“There’s definitely – on my social media and the people I tend to follow – a strong support for the protectors at the moment but I haven’t felt that locally.”
Hamilton contacted a number of people that she knew held similar beliefs and proposed the idea of a “peaceful demonstration” in Barkly Street, eventuating in this morning’s stance by ten locals and their children.
The group left the Ararat Town Hall bearing posters and walked up Barkly Street, before crossing the road at the post office and walking back down the other side.
Local Krystal Ferguson attended the demonstration to enforce the importance of Australia’s Indigenous culture, having visited the Djab Wurrung Embassy and understanding the importance of the land to the traditional owners.
“It’s an amazing atmosphere. To sit under the tree and just look up into the branches is so grounding, it makes you feel so insignificant and so small like you want to protect that special energy,” Ferguson said
“I’m a local and I am quite aware of the history of Ararat and I just want to support, we haven’t just been here for two hundred and thirty years. There were people in this nation before us and we’re here to support them.”
Many of the demonstrators had conducted research of their own to understand the concerns and suggested that locals dig deeper if they wish to grow their understanding. Carly Parsons lives and works in Ararat and has been exposed to the heart of Indigenous culture.
“In the early 2000s I went up and spent five years working out in remote Cape York, working in the remote Aboriginal communities and that just gave me such a deep understanding of how important connection to land is for our Indigenous people, and when they get disconnected, how that results in all the difficulties that we see today,” Parsons said.
“I haven’t read VicRoads documents, I don’t know about where the road should go, shouldn’t go but I have sat and just listened to the people out there.”
“I sat with [Amanda] and she showed me the tree. I just think the most important part of it is about listening. It would be so heartbreaking to see people forcibly removed off the land.”
“I think the government needs to come forward and they need to go back and sit at the table and really show that they know what reconciliation means.”
“I work in this community, I absolutely love it, I love the people here, I love the spirit – the sense of community”
“I think if people just stop and have real conversations with others they will understand that we all actually want the same thing.”
Sarah Hamilton said it was lovely to see some kind and respectful support for the Djab Wurrung people, to show them that there’s fresh support from locals.
“My message to the local community is to have a think of where your own beliefs have come from, where they have stemmed from and to seek out to educate yourself,” she said.
The Djab Wurrung Embassy shared it’s gratitude this afternoon, thanking all locals who turned up to show their support.
“Yesterday, at the Embassy the local Ararat police came by to tell us that they’d heard a rumour that we (front line and supporters) were doing a protest in town,” the Embassy said.
“Guess they didn’t think it was going to come from their own community.”
“If you didn’t understand the word solidarity well I’m sure you do now, as these amazing people are a fine example! Thanks locals, it’s appreciated beyond words.”
-Producer & Anchor
-Founder of AC News in 2017