An alleged arson attack on one of Victoria's significant Indigenous sites is 'gut-wrenching', say traditional owners.
A 700-year-old redgum of cultural importance to the Dja Dja Wurrung people was reported to the Country Fire Authority as alight on Thursday night.
The tree, north of Talbot in central Victoria, is called the 'Shelter Tree' or 'Maternity Tree' and has a 15-metre girth. Its hollow centre was used as shelter by the Dja Dja Wurrung, particularly by women giving birth.
This is a form of violence in the real sense and there has been every varied emotion that you could think ofRodney Carter, Dja Dja Wurrung Group
Two Talbot CFA units and volunteers attended the site and worked through the night to save the tree, aided by Forest Fire Management Victoria staff on Friday.
The tree survived a massive bushfire in 1985 and locals are hopeful it will live through this attack.
Dja Dja Wurrung Group chief executive officer Rodney Carter described the alleged deliberately-lit fire as traumatising.
"This is just so gut-wrenching," he said.
"A tree is a plant and it is innocent, and for somebody to then go and burn it which is harmful to the tree... it is of such high significance culturally. It helps my people, the Dja Dja Wurrung, connecting culturally to landscape, and then for the Talbot community, it has been an asset.
"For somebody to try and take it away from us is just so damaging. This is a form of violence in the real sense and there has been every varied emotion that you could think of."
Mr Carter praised the efforts of Talbot CFA and locals involved in saving the tree, including members of the Wadawurrung people who live nearby and attended to assist the firefighters.
"I am really pleased with the amount of people who have stepped up: the CFA, the Fagan family, and the Maryborough Police rallied around this," Mr Carter said.
"I think people will be stronger because of things like this; somebody or something has attacked us and to be stronger in these situations is really important."
The heritage-listed tree was still alight on Friday morning, after a fire inside a limb reignited.
Firefighters used water and foam on the flames while waiting for Dja Dja Wurrung Elders to arrive to give permission for the tree to be lopped so the fire inside could be accessed.
Police attended the scene and sealed it off, and their investigations are continuing.
Police media confirmed the fire is suspicious, with investigators saying the tree was "set alight by unknown persons about 6pm" on Thursday.
A Central Highlands Shire arborist assisted in securing the tree on Friday, helping extinguish the last of the fire and saving a limb which had been expected to be lost.
The Maternity Tree is recorded as a Significant Tree on the Register of the National Trust.
"Investigators believe the Aboriginal Maternity Tree off Pollocks Road was set alight by unknown persons sometime between 6pm and 10pm (on Thursday)," Victoria Police said in a statement.
"Witnesses have reported seeing a yet-to-be identified vehicle in the area when the tree was alight.
"Victoria Police acknowledges the distress the incident has caused given the tree's cultural significance to the Aboriginal community. Police are actively engaging with Aboriginal stakeholders and an investigation into the incident is ongoing."
The CFA initially put the fire out just after midnight, but were recalled to the scene just after 5am Friday morning when the fire reignited. Two vehicles from Talbot brigade remained on scene monitoring the situation.
Anyone who witnessed the fire or with any information is urged to contact Crime stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au
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