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Published: 05 February 2021   •   Media release

The traditional water knowledge of our First Nation Peoples is helping to supercharge the long-term benefits of environmental flows in the Murray–Darling Basin, while helping First Nations connect more with Country.

Water for the environment is water that has been purchased by governments to be used to improve the health of our rivers, wetlands and floodplains.

Director of Aboriginal Partnerships at the MDBA, Mark Foreman said the positive impact of the collaborations on both the environment and First Nations communities were to be celebrated while recognising there was always room for improvement.

"No one has the breadth and continuity of knowledge like our Traditional Owners. That encyclopaedic knowledge is helping guide decisions about where to water and when, which is maximising the environmental benefits of this water. At the same time this water is restoring the health of significant cultural sites that are important to First Nation Peoples," Mr Foreman said.

"At Dharriwaa (Narran Lakes) in north-west New South Wales cultural insights about plants, animals and artefacts helped to guide watering events. Having First Nations on site to monitor the benefits meant the extent of the wildlife and plant recovery was assessed in real time.

"On the Goulburn River near Seymour in Victoria, collaborations between the Taungurung Traditional Owners and the Goulburn Broken CMA led to the restoration of the sacred Horseshoe Lagoon – a site of cultural significance as a women's place. Water also saw the return of birds and other animals.

"We're going to see more integration of First Nations knowledge into watering decisions now the MDBA and Commonwealth Environmental Water Office have drawn on First Nation Peoples' knowledge of their lands and environment to develop the 2020-21 priorities for environmental watering. The two peak First Nations organisations – the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) and the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) have also assisted with this plan."

Chair of NBAN, Fred Hooper said it was great to see that for the first time in history First Nations objectives and outcomes have been included in annual environmental watering priorities.

"It is our peoples' rights under international law to be involved in water planning, delivery and monitoring of water for the environment, and I'm excited to see what more is to come," Mr Hooper said.

Acting Chair of MLDRIN, Grant Rigney said the benefits for First Nations People were also evident. 

"Nation groups are benefiting from a greater connection and reconnection to Country alongside the continuation of important cultural practices which have existed for thousands of years."

Delivery of water for the environment relies on relationships between dedicated and passionate people from Traditional Owner groups, community and non-government organisations, together with state and federal agency staff. Across many parts of the Murray–Darling Basin, agencies have worked to connect people, Country and culture to improve outcomes from the use of water for the environment.  

Following the last publication of ‘Rivers, the Veins of our Country' covering stories from 2018-19, we have collated new stories to share from 2019-20. Ten new case studies of First Nation Peoples' participation in environmental watering have been profiled, along with striking images in the latest edition on the MDBA website: rivers-the-veins-of-our-country-2019-20.pdf (

The MDBA is grateful to First Nations of the Basin, NBAN and MLDRIN, and environmental water managers for contributing the case studies in this compilation, and to all of those who have participated in these important partnerships and continue to do so.

Funding to develop this publication came from The Living Murray program, a joint initiative of the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian, Australian Capital Territory and Commonwealth governments, coordinated by the MDBA.


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