AN Victorian farmer whose property borders a Western Highway protest camp has spoken out against what he calls "months of harassment" from activists.
Max Wohlers owns farming property stretching from Ararat to Buangor and says that he will no longer tend to a bottom paddock near the Buangor camp due to constant harassment.
Activists and Traditional Owners have been camped along the proposed Western Highway duplication project site since June 2018.
Some of the people at the camp support a legal challenge to get the planned highway project re-routed to an alternative route known as the Northern Option, while others don't support any new road but rather are calling for the existing highway to be improved in situ.
At the same time the project has been subject to a number of ongoing challenges in the courts over significant Indigenous and environmental sites by Traditional Owners.
The activists themselves have also received harrassment and antisocial behaviour directed towards them.
'Nobody can help me'
Mr Wohlers said each time he approaches the fence line, people at the camp yell at him, hold up placards and film him.
"I've had 17 months of hassle ... continual trespass from them," he said. "I drive along the fence, they'll come over and pull me up ... and say get off our land. I say I pay the rates but they say no, this is our land.
"I haven't been able to put sheep on there for 17 months. Every time you go up there you get abused.
"Everything has been reported to the police."
Mr Wohlers said the first week of December saw another clash between him and activists, when he went near the camp with Major Road Projects Victoria personnel, who took photos of the ropes in the trees that activists had put up.
"The VicRoads bloke rang me up beforehand and said we can't go up unless there's security," he said.
"About 15 of them (activists) were there and they all lined up with placards, taking photos with all their phones, the abuse they gave me, the VicRoads bloke and the police was unbelievable."
Mr Wohlers said he has tried contacting "everyone" - including Victoria Police, Ararat Rural City Council, Major Road Projects Victoria and state politicians - for assistance but "nobody can help me".
The land where the camp is situated belongs to Major Road Projects Victoria and neither the council nor the police have any jurisdiction over it.
The Djab Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy has published videos on its Facebook page showing camp members harassing Major Road Projects Victoria workers and Victoria Police members.
However, members of the camp have also been subjected to ongoing abuse from passing commuters and community members.
An incident in September saw a man walk onto the campsite with two chainsaws and make threats against those present. A tree fire that appeared to be deliberately lit was linked to anti-Indigenous sentiment.
Local landowner and environmental campaigner Mairianne Mackenzie, who is a member of a group advocating for the Northern Option, has previously told The Ararat Advertisershe, too, has been the subject of nasty rumours among residents about her involvement in the Western Highway saga that suggested she is making a personal profit off the protest and legal challenges.
"Why would anyone put in all this effort and stress in just for personal gain? No one does this for fun," she said at the time.
Anyone present at the camp has to put up with constant car and truck horns and verbal abuse being screamed from vehicles. When The Ararat Advertiser visited the camp on Monday, a passenger in a passing car screamed "f--ck off!" at the campers.
A spokesman for Major Roads Project Victoria called the behaviour from activists "unacceptable".
"Whatever your views on this project, the way that some members of the community have been treated by project opponents is unacceptable," she said.
"MRPV will continue to offer nearby landowners and affected community members support."
The road authority is working with Victoria Police to resolve issues and has had security deployed for several months at the project site to ensure MRPV staff and contractors can attend their workplace safely.
Protest is legal in Victoria and the right to peacefully demonstrate and protest is recognised by The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
Wimmera Divisional Commander Acting Superintendent Paul Bertoncello said the role of police was to balance this fundamental right with community safety.
"Victoria Police are aware that members of the local community have raised concerns with the behaviour of protesters situated at the site of the proposed Western Highway duplication in Ararat over the last 18 months," Acting Sergeant Bertoncello said.
"When concerns are raised with Victoria Police, they are carefully assessed and thoroughly investigated.
"Members of the broader community are supported and kept informed through this process by Victoria Police.
"The challenge for Victoria Police is to balance the right of people to protest peacefully, while ensuring community safety and taking action against those who break the law or engage in anti-social behaviour or violence.
"We have maintained a consistent position about our expectations of protester behaviour and we continue to have regular contact with protest organisers to reinforce those expectations.
"Victoria Police do not maintain a presence at the protest sites, which are on land owned by Major Roads Project Victoria.
"We do not tolerate action by anyone who breaks the law or engages in anti-social behaviour or violence.
"That applies to protesters and the broader community. We encourage anyone with information about any crime to come forward to police or contact Crimestoppers on 1800 333 000."
Ararat Rural City Council chief executive Tim Harrison said the council "sympathised with anyone who was currently impacted by the protests, and said he hoped the issues could be resolved amicably."
Traditional Owners were approached for comment but declined; one former spokesman said that he had had placed a gag order on him and he was unable to make public comment.