Worldwide cultural heritage was harmed with the devastating
destruction of the 850-year-old Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. Footage of the
spire burning and collapsing is horrifying to watch, with so much history just
disappearing rapidly before your eyes. Regardless of your religious denomination,
it’s always painful to see this kind of destruction occur without reason.
As Frances President Emmanuel Macron stated:
What happened tonight in Paris, in this cathedral, is a terrible event. Notre Dame is our history, our literature, part of our psyche, the place of all our great events, our epidemics, our wars, our liberations, the epicentre of our lives … So I solemnly say tonight: we will rebuild it together.
It is powerful to see a leader make a statement that recognises
the wealth of history that has occurred long before he – or anyone else for
that matter – existed.
Which is why, as the Australian election campaign rolls on, the
silence from the leaders of this country about the rampant destruction of
Indigenous history in Australia is deafening. I say this not to try and
minimise the destruction of Notre Dame, but to bring relevance and equivalence
to what has occurred in France to what is occurring in Australia.
In Victoria alone, there is the continued threat to the
800-year-old trees that exist in Djapwarrung country. Vicroads intend to remove
these trees so that they can transform the highway that runs through the region
from a two lane highway into a four lane one. It has been reported that this
extension will save travellers a whole three minutes off their current travel
Think about that – 800+ years of history gone for the sake of 3
One of the easiest ways to damage communities is to destroy and
remove their culture. Ever since Australia was invaded way back in the 1700’s,
Indigenous culture has been destroyed and removed in the name of ‘progress’.
Countless sites have been wiped off the history map for another mine, or road,
or housing settlement to be constructed. Yes, Aboriginal Heritage Acts exist
across Australia, but even that is not enough to stop mining companies from wanting
to destroy culturally sensitive sites that have been dated as far back as
23,000 years ago.
When you contrast the way that European history is embraced and
celebrated around the world, to the way that Indigenous history in Australia is
rejected and shrugged off as irrelevant, well, you can’t help but be furious
and upset by this. When you look at some
of the responses to the fact that nobody will be allowed to climb Uluru
from October 26th 2019, well, you can’t help but weep. Reading ‘it’s
just a rock’ is no different than to saying that Notre Dame is ‘just a pile of
well organised stones’ – it’s to reject the cultural, historical, and spiritual
significance of Uluru, of the Djapwarrung trees, of the Indigenous rock art in Spear
Valley, and to shrug it off as irrelevant.
How can Australia sit in silence as this happens? Indigenous
history is Australian history. To destroy that is to destroy who we are as a
society. Are we that married to the idea of infrastructure that we can’t even
realise that we’re cannibalising ourselves and losing our identity as it
In Inga Simpson’s book Where
the Trees Were, her main character, Jayne, operates in the middle of the
night to steal away Indigenous artefacts from a museum. These artefacts are
Wiradjuri aborglyphs – carved trees that mark the grave of a significant male
elder. As a child, Jayne saw these trees and says:
The cuts were deep and wide, right into the heartwood, like fingers making a river. Scrolls and diamonds filled the space around it. It all meant something. It meant a lot. We knew that straight away. We didn’t quite understand, the way we didn’t fully understand a lot of things. At the same time we almost did, although it was more than we could have explained. And we knew that we all felt the same, without having to speak. It was as if the trees said everything for us.
It’s clear that there
is something significant about these trees, and as the book progresses, Jayne grows
to fully comprehend their importance, but is unable to stop their destruction
at the hands of her father who is afraid that new land-rights claims would mean
the loss of his farm.
Where the Trees Were was written by a white woman, and tells the story of
a white character growing to realise the importance of Indigenous heritage, and
doing what they can to try rectify the actions of their parents. While this
history is not white Australia’s history, it is still history that we – white Australia
as a whole – has been complicit in destroying. For this reason alone, white
Australians need to stand up for Indigenous culture and make their voices heard
that this willing, government stamped destruction of Indigenous heritage is not
ok. We simply cannot sit around while trees that were around long before white
Australia made its presence known are destroyed.
Jakelin Troy writes
about the importance of trees for Indigenous culture for The
I urge you to read this piece. If there’s one thing I fear about the state of
Australia as a whole, it’s the rampant destruction of trees around Australia as
a whole, and our willingness to simply remove so much vegetation without
comprehending what will happen to the land when these trees are gone. Not only
are these trees historically important, but they are vital for the land to stay
healthy and alive, and, of course, the mere fact that they provide us oxygen to
I also urge you to reconnect with the land you live on, and to take note of what part of Indigenous Australia you live within. To find out, have a look at the AIATSIS map of Indigenous Australia here. For me, I live on Whadjuk Noongar land.
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