Baraba Baraba man Wayne Webster has been sharing his concerns with authorities for decades on the state of the Murray-Darling Basin but feels like his messages have fallen on deaf ears.
- Traditional Owners met with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
- Authority officials acknowledge engagement with communities and First Nations peoples has been poor
- Water authorities will meet next week to plan the next 12 months of environmental water.
“I’ve been involved in water issues for 25 years, and the same issues are discussed, and we don’t seem to get any outcome,” Mr Webster said.
Traditional owners from across the southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin came together this week for a historic meeting with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to discuss how environmental flows in the basin for the next 12 months will be managed.
Mr Webster said it had been a long time coming.
“This meeting has put a bit of spirit back into our people and made us feel a part of it. We have input now,” he said.
“Finally, we are looking at building partnerships with the basin and water authorities. We always seem to be tacked on to the end of stuff, and the way I see it. You have environmental water and cultural water, and they have very similar objectives.”
Around 30 people met in Mildura for the two-day forum this week where Traditional Owners from Balranald to Canberra met with water authorities to share their concerns on the lack of water that’s been allocated for significant ancestral sites.
“This is not just for Aboriginal people. This is for everybody’s sake.
“There is a breakdown of biodiversity because of the way the water is managed today. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that, and the way forward is working together,” Mr Webster said.
“The Murray River is really concerning for us at the moment because it’s being used as an irrigation channel and water isn’t able to spread out into country — what we classify as living organs of country, ” said Tatti Tatti man Brendan Kennedy.
“These these lakes, lagoons and wetlands are all the organs of our ancestral being; the kidneys, the liver, the bowel,” Mr Kennedy said.
“Every traditional owner has all of these organs that need water because water is the same as blood. So, if you cut off the body parts you are killing the ancestral being which is our country, and it is the same as us with people.”
Hilary Johnson, acting assistant secretary Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, said actions had come out of the forum.
“So one of the key things that has come out of this is a couple of statements that we are going to be including in our planning documents,” Mr Johnson said.
“We’ve also tried to map out a pathway to be able to continue working together over the next 12 months, and how we can develop ongoing partnerships, particular for environmental water.
“We want to work with First Nations to maximise the outcome for that piece of water.”
Nari-Nari woman Marie Murray has seen the effects that over-extraction has had on her country’s water.
“I still go down to the river and collect my healing medicine from certain places along the river, but I can see it is getting smaller and smaller,” Ms Murray said.
“The strength of the medicine is getting weaker, and it is more spread out. We are losing our connection to country.”
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder will meet next week to plan the environmental flows for the next 12 months with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations in attendance.