Credibility is on the line in highway fight
We hope demonstrations generating community anxiety and holding up work on a Western Highway dual carriageway project near Ararat are based on cultural and historic merit.
If fact we desperately hope this is the case as protesters continue to pursue a route change to protect an area they claim has cultural significance.
If so, then their defiant position demanding a change would be fair enough.
We need to protect elements of Australian heritage we can clearly identify as important or significant.
In the past, Australian society has been guilty of dismantling, disregarding and destroying too many of our important cultural landmarks and sites.
We have a poor track record in this field, often based on ignorance, cultural disregard or racism.
However, if this protest is proven to have no historic merit, the gesture of holding up a costly project designed to save lives on one of Australia’s busiest
highways will be subject to broad backlash. Such a finding will also fuel unhealthy fires of cynicism surrounding Aboriginal claims in the region, regardless of legitimacy, and weigh down efforts to break down cultural barriers and the promotion of cultural heritage.
This is something all of us who celebrate our thousands of years of Australian human history want to avoid.
We suspect this protest has progressed too far and there is too much credibility at stake for parties to willingly back down. Yet, there is a need for a compromise.
This is undoubtedly hard – especially when unveiling the truth about Aboriginal history can be complicated, involving everything from archaeological summation to generational word-of-mouth storytelling where versions can vary.
This battle can’t be simply about making a political point based on an historical position or a philosophical and dogmatic rage against the machine.
Again, we hope it’s not – surely we’re past engaging in this type of fight.
Authorities also can’t afford to adopt a bureaucratic ‘go-to-blazes – we’re-doing-this-regardless’ view in this circumstance until exhausting all legal, cultural, historical, social and moral avenues of investigation.
We simply have to get it right and that means, exhaustive as it might be, everyone taking an open, diplomatic, magnanimous and, importantly, honest position back to the negotiating table.
But this needs to happen sooner rather than later.
In our part of the world we’ve been yelling from the rooftops of a need for a dual-carriage Western Highway for far too long to tolerate too much more of this stalemate.