My heart aches, lurches in my throat and tosses with me in my sleep. I think of everyone on the front lines, fighting as the flickering of a culture is extinguished, the obliteration of history; they fear standing among the wreckage of something sacred and sanctified.
The peripherals in my social media feed raise their voices. They scream at the mainstream, begging for attention on the ground, something to douse the destruction that threatens to burn through heritage and legacy. The media blocks their ears.
Weeks later, another landmark looks destruction dead on. This time, the symbol of an empire built on the backs of the colonised: the people broken in and tossed in a pile so the list of countries reads like the rungs on a ladder, leading the French to the top of the world.
Hours later and the spire that sought into the heavens has collapsed. The world weeps; the tears squeezed and wrung, our conscious is left out to dry in the heat of the embers. Australians lay out their hearts, double tapped on Insta, love reacts on Facebook. Suddenly, colonial ties are fashionable again. Or has our allegiance always loomed in the backs of our minds – caught in the columns of listed buildings, rugged up in the union jack on our flag, in the pixels of televised royal weddings? The underbelly of an empire itches below the charade of the modern age. I had made the mistake of thinking we were different, that we would shed the ties that bound us so tightly to empires that wrecked and raped Australia over and over again. We are the seeds of a colonial empire and we follow their history. As always, when Europe calls for us, we respond in force. We are the child of Europe, still crushing cultures in our embrace of empires.
Colonialism still stands and so does the damage. Notre Dame remains mostly intact. Still, hundreds of millions of euros pour in to smother the embers of an empire. The former colonies will receive no such reparations; instead, the icon of their oppression will be restored. We know the truth. Casting history in marble and stone can’t bring comfort, not when these places are still healing from the fractures and breaks of colonial rule.
Sixteen thousand kilometres away, Melbourne mourns for Paris. The weeping for a French monument drowns out the cries of another culture still recovering from genocide, the Missions of White Australia. This generation, the ones thought to be different, prove their colonial ties like the ones before. The pledges of the young drown out the pleas of protesters at the sacred trees of the Djab Wurrung people.
Hours from Melbourne, people from the oldest living culture in the world stand among allies, ready for the bulldozers and police that face them full force, set to wilfully demolish their history. The media whispers of the self-proclaimed progressive government who plan to demolish 800 years of legacy, paving roads to save time and erasing history in the same moment. This government follows the bequest of their empire, blotting out culture in the name of progress.
Instead of sharpening our vision, sight testing the racism rampant within our country, my generation blur our focus and look away. We wander the world in awe at the cultures we stem from, because history looks better from the views of the victors – London, Madrid, Paris. We pay the entrance fee to examine stolen mementos of oppression and genocides kept in a neat row of boxes that line the corridors of colonial power. It is easier to press our face against the glass from across the world than it is to look at home and see the truth.
Since writing this article, all work on the planned demolition has been halted until May. Last week the Federal Court ruled in favour of the Djab Wurrung people, and the Victorian Government will pay their legal fees. Members of the state government have already insisted that work will not stop on the project and a new plan will be implemented. For now, protestors remain onsite to ensure the protection of their scared trees. If you’d like to show your support for the Djab Wurrung people, please sign the petition or donate to the GoFundMe.
Find more information about the status of the Djab Wurrung protests at the Djab Wurrung Embassy
Azad Essa’s commentary in Middle East Eye: France's Notre Dame outpouring is a metaphor for (in)humanity
Bianca Hall’s article in The Age: 'They won't listen to us blackfellas': Push to save ancient sacred trees
This piece was written by Sam McDonald. Sam likes hiking, nature, poetry, the beach and other clichés. She’s currently doing postgrad at the University of Melbourne, but between her classes she finds the time to pet the neighbourhood cats, watch copious amounts of television and continue her search for Melbourne’s best bagels.