Indigenous water needs for the Fitzroy River

Aboriginal people have a long-standing and strong connection to the Fitzroy River. The river forms an integral part of their way of life and is the foundation of various social activities such as family interactions, ceremonies and hunting and gathering. Native title has been recognised over many parts of the Fitzroy River catchment and this guarantees protection of rights to hunt, fish, and gather other foods and resources.

With increased interest in the expansion of irrigated agriculture in the catchment, these important values could be put at risk. Understanding how they could be impacted by increased development and incorporating new information into water planning rules is reducing that risk.

This research aims to improve knowledge of Indigenous water requirements within the Fitzroy River catchment and to inform plans for future water use. It is identifying customary uses of water and waterways, reveal links between Indigenous values, practices and water regimes, and elicit knowledge, as well as objectives for the future management of land and water resources. Emphasis is also being placed on advancing the field of Indigenous water planning by trialling social assessment methods and showing the value of community participation in environmental flow assessments. It is hoped that the information generated from this project will continue to be of use to Indigenous ranger groups, native title organisations and the Kimberley Land Council, and to state and federal government Natural Resource Management agencies.

The project is following four major steps:

  1. Facilitate Indigenous participation;
  2. Draw on current information about environmental water requirements and develop initial conceptual models that link the social and ecological needs and goals of Indigenous people with the potential impacts of water resource development;
  3. Target new research with communities to determine water requirements of environmental assets and cultural features valued by Indigenous people (such as fish, pools in the river and riverside vegetation); and
  4. Revise conceptual models with new information and make recommendations on ways of meeting and monitoring Indigenous water requirements in water plans and other NRM plans and programs.

The project is focused on the Fitzroy River catchment in Western Australia. Most activity is concentrated around Fitzroy Crossing and the lower Fitzroy catchment.

August 2021

The Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub addressed key research questions to come up with practical, on-ground solutions to some of the north’s most complex environmental challenges. A transdisciplinary research approach has been at the heart of the hub. Integrating key research users – policy-makers and land managers including Traditional Owners and ranger groups – into the co-design of research projects has led to rapid uptake of research outcomes into land management practices and decision-making. The hub has produced this wrap-up video outlining these impacts from the perspectives of research users.

June 2021

In the face of growing interest in the waters of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra (Margaret and Fitzroy Rivers) in north-west Western Australia, NESP research has partnered with Traditional Owners to increase our understanding of the rivers’ important cultural and environmental requirements. In this short film, senior Gooniyandi artist Mervyn Street shares his art and storytelling about the waters of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra, and the waters’ vital significance to the Country and people’s lives.

Mervyn shares his wisdom to help viewers understand the rhythms of water and life and what they mean in his philosophical tradition. He also hopes it will help viewers understand the importance of the Warlibiddi and Martuwarra waters to not only sustain life, but also enable social connections and sustain culture for future generations.

The research is being led by Professor Sue Jackson from Griffith University. Professor Jackson is being assisted by researchers from The University of Western Australia and the Australian Rivers Institute at Griffith University.

Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation, Gooniyandi Aboriginal Corporation, Jaru Claimant Group, Kija Claimant Group, Tiya-Tiya Aboriginal Corporation, Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation, Warrwa Claimant Group, Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation and Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation/Yi-Martuwarra are collaborators in this research.

This project is due for completion in June 2021.

Sue Jackson, Griffith University
[email protected]

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  • Yeerra Pool on Nyikina-Mangala land (Fitzroy River), photo Michael Douglas.
  • Nyikina-Mangala Rangers collect fish in the pools and shallow run habitats of the lower Fitzroy River, photo Leah Beesley.
  • Traditional Resources. Photo: Glenn Campbell
  • Fitzroy River. Photo: Michael Douglas
  • Bush tucker. Photo: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
  • Fitzroy River. Photo: Michael Douglas
  • Fitzroy River. Photo: Michael Douglas