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Replenishing Dharriwaa

Narran Lakes, which is known as Dharriwaa to the Yuwaalaraay/Euahlayi people, has been an important meeting place to Aboriginal groups for thousands of years.
Published: 05 July 2022

It’s NAIDOC Week – a time for all Australians to learn about the history, culture and achievements of our First Nations People and celebrate the oldest continuing culture on Earth. Each day this week, the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is sharing a story of First Nations’ involvement in water for the environment in the Murray–Darling Basin, continuing the millennia-old practice of Caring for River Country.   


Outstanding environmental, cultural and social outcomes have all combined to raise the spirits of collaborative partners at the Ramsar site of Narran Lakes following flows of water for the environment in 2020 and 2021. 

Narran Lakes, which is known as Dharriwaa to the Yuwaalaraay/Euahlayi people, has been an important meeting place to Aboriginal groups for thousands of years. The site is internationally recognised because of its cultural and ecological importance.

Jason Wilson, chair of Narran Lakes Nature Reserve Joint Management Committee, who is also a Local Engagement Officer for the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO), said Narran Lakes was inundated with water for the environment for the second year in a row, replenishing critical nesting habitat that can support up to 200,000 waterbirds in the expansive wetlands. 

Two people standing behind bonnet of a vehicle, looking at an unfurled map.
Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Hilton Taylor with CEWO Local Engagement Officer and Narran Lakes Joint Management Committee Chair, Jason Wilson, at Dharriwaa in March 2021 as floodwaters arrived.

“The bird life is incredible when water inundates the Narran Lakes complex. There are birds that come from far away and the local birds as well. It is a time of feasting when these beautiful birds come. Now we monitor, now we are learning and teaching our youth to harvest and now we feel a great sense of pride when we see these birds continuing to share our Dreaming Stories and meet at Narran Lakes,” he said. 

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Hilton Taylor visited the Narran Lake Nature Reserve in late March 2021 as the floodwater arrived. 

“These flows are critical to the recovery of the internationally significant Narran Lakes, following 7 years of drought. Commonwealth water for the environment is starting to make a difference to restoring this precious ecosystem,” he said. 

Tanya Morgan, who is a Youalaroi Traditional Owner from Narran Lakes Country, said the water that has come to Narran Lakes has been life giving.

“From being so dry to seeing the vegetation come back to life makes our soul sing. That’s why we feast, dance and have ceremony, we feel so connected to Dharriwaa Gooni-Ma, Mother earth Narran Lakes our Meeting Place,” she said. 

Two scenes. Black necked stork in wetland, and lignum plants in a shallow wetland.
Left: A black necked stork. Right: Lignum in Back Lake, 2021.

During his CEWO engagement work Jason Wilson has observed that some vegetation is recovering well, while other areas are still showing signs of stress following 7 years of drought. 

The replenishing flows over the past 2 years have supported more than 47 waterbird species, including migratory species such as the white-winged black tern - the first sighting in northern inland New South Wales for a decade. Threatened species including brolgas, black-necked stork, blue-billed duck and freckled duck have also been seen. 

The University of New South Wales is collaborating with the CEWO and other Australian Government and state agencies to monitor breeding of ibis and other colonial nesting waterbirds in the region. The CSIRO is also working with the CEWO to track waterbird movement in the northern Murray–Darling Basin, including when birds visit the Narran Lakes. 

The MDBA continues to identify the Narran Lakes as a priority for environmental watering to help vegetation recover, increase the chance of waterbirds breeding, and bring benefits for other animals around the lakes that are of cultural importance. 

This story was originally published in Rivers, the Veins of Our Country 2021

The government agencies involved would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners of the Murray–Darling Basin and their Nations, who have a deep cultural, social, environmental, spiritual and economic connection to their lands and waters. They understand the need for recognition of Traditional Owner knowledge and cultural values in natural resource management in the Basin. It is hoped that by continuing to work closely with Traditional Owners and First Nations People we can help in the journey to heal the land, Country and Peoples of the Basin.  

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