Indigenous values guide northern Australian waters research

“Indigenous people in the north have a large stake in water resource planning and management based on their distinct cultures, ways of life and substantial land holdings. Yet their interests and values in water are poorly understood by decision makers,” CSIRO researcher Dr Sue Jackson says.

“Our research will increase understanding of the importance of river systems to Indigenous people and help water planners and managers take Indigenous people’s water needs into consideration.

“Indigenous people will be able to sit at the table with other water users such as farmers and irrigators and have their water requirements factored into planning.”

The TRaCK (Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge) funded research will record Indigenous people’s social and cultural knowledge relating to water and will survey them to quantify the economic benefit households derive from their use of aquatic plants and animals. Indigenous people will also be employed in the survey and monitoring components of the research and as advisors on river health.

”Our survey will involve asking Indigenous people questions such as how many fish they’ve caught or bush cucumbers they’ve collected over the past few weeks and we’ll compare the cost of purchasing the same amount of food from the community store,” Dr Jackson says.

“In what is a ‘first’ for this kind of study, we’ll also be looking at what effect different water levels, or flow regimes, have on the patterns of resource use by Indigenous people.”

The research will focus on two catchments: the Daly River in the Northern Territory and the Fitzroy River in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

Malak Malak Traditional Owner, Biddy Lindsay, is concerned about the impacts of people on the Daly River and billabongs. For example, she says that some of the billabongs on her traditional country have changed substantially over the last five to 10 years.

'Pigs, horses and cattle have stirred up the edges of some billabongs. We go to catch fish and turtle there but we don't catch much anymore,' Mrs Lindsay says.

Mrs Lindsay is also concerned with the effects of groundwater extraction on the Daly River.

'All that water taken out used to mix in with the river water and make it good; not cloudy, not mud,” she says. “Now that water in the river is not good; cloudy. It's not healthy that river anymore.'

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