THE Western Highway duplication near Ararat has been delayed again.
Major Road Projects Authority announced today that it would temporarily suspend work on the Ararat to Buangor section of the Western Highway upgrade.
Activists have been camped at the site for about two months due to Aboriginal heritage concerns.
The Federal Department of Environment and Energy requested works should be suspended.
MRPA Executive Director Andrew Williams said the department had written to the authority to request that works cease so that it can undertake an assessment of the area’s cultural heritage.
This was following an application to protect land under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984.
“We will make a submission to this inquiry demonstrating the extensive and collaborative process we’ve undertaken with the Djab Wurrung community,” he said.
“(This includes) working with the Registered Aboriginal Party, Martang Pty Ltd, to put in place a Cultural Heritage Management Plan and consultation with the Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation.
“MRPA and VicRoads have been working closely with Traditional Owners for several years and we continue to work with members of the Djab Wurrung community throughout the delivery of the Western Highway duplication.”
Aboriginal elder Aunty Sandra Onus said she was pleased with the decision to postpone the works once again.
“In light of what archaeologist Dr Heather Builth found during her recent visit, it’s good news,” she said.
“She assessed not only the trees, but the surrounding area and found so much. She founds lots of artifacts, including spearheads; it was really amazing. She’s a very honest scientist and the only one we really trust.”
Dr Builth has previously studied eel cultivation by south-west Victorian Aboriginal people. Her work contributed to an application for UNESCO World Heritage listing for the Budj Bim landscape south-west of Hamilton.
Aunty Sandra said she hoped a solution to please both parties would be found soon.
“Protesters have been camped out there in the wind and cold for close to two months now,” she said.
“They will be there until we get something in writing from the government. We don’t want to hold up progress either, we can see the traffic that gets built up.
“But we have to protect our cultural heritage. We have to show them that Aboriginal people are connected and devoted to their culture. We are really fighting an uphill battle.
“What’s happening in Ararat isn’t a one-off occurrence; it’s happening everywhere.”
The federal government has committed $501.3 million and the state government $171 million to the project.