'It is our spirit tree'

The Mooja is what is commonly known as the Christmas tree. It’s a very sacred tree, a very slow growing tree. You can’t just replant it.
                                                    It is our spirit tree.
                                                                   When we pass
                                                                          our spirit goes
                                                                                    into that tree.
That is why we celebrate the blossoms. We are not to hurt the tree or pick the flowers as First Nations people.

IMG_0711I sit down with Noongar woman Gail Beck (pictured) at a quiet cafe a few hundred metres from North Lake. She wears a silky scarf and beaded bracelets on each wrist. Her wild curly hair carries the flowery scent of shampoo.
Beck looks down at her hands and makes a remark about “bloody blisters”. She has spent her morning spreading mulch around for baby turtles to nestle in for shelter. She has walked the lake every Sunday for the past 17 years. “It was a great way to tire out the kids on their bikes,” she says.
“If you are connected to country and … if you walk in the area and just go off the tracks, you can feel the beauty of it.” She speaks with a soft and measured tone.
Beck remembers helping out at a cultural centre just off Hope Road, where Native Arc is now. “We called it the Yonga [Kangaroo] School and it was for at-risk kids in the region,” she says. IMG_1072“We used to hide potatoes and things and get the people who come on the tour to dig up the potatoes and pretend they were yams, and do educational and cultural stuff down there.”
When the bulldozers started clearing ancient trees for the Roe 8 freeway on November 24 last year, Beck knew she had to do something. “I was brought here over 30 years ago with some old people,” she says. “We just came and had a cup of tea down the lake and we were just sharing stories. They told us how important it is and how we should always fight to protect it.”
In November, Beck joined a group of about 12 protesters to form the Mooja Team, which had the mission to delay the destruction. “We decided to give that our name out of respect of the ancient trees that were there,” she says.
“We were what was called a seed group.IMG_0703 That was a group identified as, ‘Yep. We will be arrestable and actually do an action’. We decided we were going to … lock onto trees. That was most of the seed [groups’] jobs just to stop work for as long as we could.
“We had training on how to get into thumb locks, how to lock on and how to lock off, and what to say to police, like not to be cheeky.
“Basically hold up the works for as long as we can. For example drop to the ground because then they need four police to carry you because, you know, every five minutes helps.”
IMG_7755Beck remembers the day during the clearing for Roe 8 when she locked onto a tree for six hours straight. “We got in there really early in the morning. I was under a beautiful banksia tree.”
She pauses to take a deep breath.
“That tree is no longer there,” she says. “I did collect seeds in my hair and I planted them at home, so hopefully they sprout.”

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