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A vision for a healthier Barwon-Darling

First Nations delegates develop priorities and objectives to guide water use in the Barwon–Darling.
Published: 08 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.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is proud to be working with First Nations in managing water across the Murray–Darling Basin. In the Barwon–Darling, the involvement of First Nations has been a vital component of planning water for the environment.

Building on the 2019–20 First Nations Environmental Water Guidance (FNEWG) project, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) approached the NSW Department of Planning and Environment: Energy, Environment and Science (DPE EES) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) about hosting a 2-day pilot workshop.

The focus of the pilot was to develop First Nations water for the environment objectives and guidance to inform how water for the environment could be managed and protected in the Barwon–Darling for the 2021–22 water year. Water for the environment is managed in the Barwon–Darling between Mungindi and Menindee.

Landscape of the Darling River with gum trees in foreground and background
Bank of the Barwon–Darling River at Toorale National Park

Priorities included connectivity, water quality, significant sites, iconic species and culturally important plants and trees. First Nations delegates also provided planning insights as to when and how water should be delivered to maximise healthy Country outcomes. 

DPE EES and the CEWO are now working with NBAN First Nations delegates to characterise each of the identified sites. This involves understanding how water can or can’t be delivered to the site, depending on factors such as flow rates, duration, and timing. Following the site characterisation an on-Country workshop is being planned to develop possible watering plans. The common goal is to understand what can be done to improve the health of Country in the Barwon–Darling.

Group of people, seated
Front – Raymond Thompson (Wayilwan delegate), Grace Gordon (Ngemba delegate), Rafe Pfitzner Milika (NBAN), Sonia Yeung (NBAN), Matt Miles (DPE EES) Michael Wrathall (CEWO). Back – Josephine Wilson (DPE EES), Peter Harris (Ngiyampaa delegate), Barry Williams (Ngiyampaa delegate), Feli McHughes (Ngemba delegate), Jason Ford (NBAN), Michael Eckford (Euahlayi delegate), Debbie Love (DPE EES) (Left to right). Source: Jodie Sontag, reprinted with the permission of the Western Herald at Bourke

DPE EES and the CEWO are also looking to partner with other First Nations in decision-making associated with water for the environment. Based on the success of the pilot and if First Nations feel it is appropriate there may be opportunities to adapt a similar style of workshop in other catchments.

Participating Northern Basin Aboriginal Nation delegates are: Euahlayi, Murrawarri, Ngemba, Ngiyampaa and Wayilwan.

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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