Aboriginal people believe that it’s our river. It belonged to the Aboriginal people.
We’re the traditional owners of this water. We share it with all the community.
A lot of systems in place these days, the different governments, the different agencies,
the different jurisdictions and all the different responsibilities, it all…aboriginal people
don’t think like that. It’s hard for them to comprehend who they need to speak to. There
hasn’t really been opportunities for traditional knowledge to walk alongside it because, you
know, we know how to look after country.
Hello, My name is Lillian Moseley, and I am a Dunghutti woman from the Mid North Coast,
Kempsey. This resource package was designed to help communities to make the most of these
opportunities and to exercise their rights within the water sharing framework. I would
like to wish you all the best in utilising this resource package, Our water, Our Country.
Our creator, Baiame, was doing his deeds, making different things around this part of
the world. Then he came across a mob of people at Brewarrina who were hungry and hardly had
any water. So Baiame created and drew a plan of the fish traps for them. He then taught
them how to call the rain, and after the rain subsided there were thousands of fish, coming
up through the fishtraps. So that is how Baiame gave us our water. He made it for us. Our
Dreamtime means a lot to us. His footprints are still in the rocks down there. It’s
something that belongs to us forever, in our dreaming and in our future. It’s our life,
and it will always be our life.
You look at our policies when the old people used to say look after the water. Now that’s
a treasure of the earth. It was given to us in our myth and legend.
The springs are protected through law because that’s their drinking hole, but if it’s
contaminated, there goes the drinking hole. There’s strong laws and customs for those
drinking holes to protect them.
I just want to speak briefly about the days before carp, the days before the weir, and
the days before large pumps were on the water. We grew up and that river was our playground.
We got food from there such as fish and crayfish. We swam in the river, we washed in the river,
and when the pumps break down we bath in it.
It’s a day out for our people, take the kids up fishing, swimming, surviving off the
water, and camp up the rivers, all the families go there and it was beautiful water to drink,
fresh, but now it’s not the same, it’s not flowing the way it should be.
The fact that we had a resource that we used, and Mum showed us how to catch mussels, and
Dad taught us how to swim, how to feel for mussels in the mud and throw them up on the
bank and cook them. So those sorts of things were actually taught by us.
Prior to whites coming to Australia, water in Australia was part of the landscape, part
of aboriginal communities and their culture. There was a very strong affiliation between
the way aborigines lived and water. It was part of their day to day life. It dictated
how they lived and where they lived. When whites came to Australia things were changed
dramatically, and particularly after the declaration of Federation in 1901 where water was made
the responsibility of the stats. We saw a radical shift in the way water was managed,
the priority of water to be development of our agriculture, and for the first ninety
years of of the 20th century that was the priority for water management. It was to get
water out on the farms, to provide opportunities for the farming community, to grow crops,
to generate wealth, to generate jobs and industry. That changed significantly in the early 1990s
where all of Eastern Australia went through a very severe drought. In some cases it was
the worst drought in history. We saw the Darling River at that time have a 1,000km toxic blue-green
algal slick where you couldn’t touch the water, cattle couldn’t drink the water,
kids couldn’t swim in the water. We saw a lot of our coastal rivers for the first
time in living memory dry up. The Macleay River, near Kempsey, stopped flowing, which
had never happened before. We saw salt start to appear in the Riverina which hadn’t been
seen before, because our groundwater was getting contaminated. We saw red gums on the Murray
River dying off because there was not enough water to sustain them. And at that time our
governments, states and commonwealth, got together and said ‘we’ve got to radically
change the way we manage water. It’s not an infinite resource. We need to do things
in a more sustainable way. We need to look at getting some balance, some sharing between
industry and the environment.’ It was a real institutional shock, I think, that it
had got so bad, and we were supposed to be the managers, experts, and things had just
crashed. So the water reforms were about providing water initially for the environment, and then
some sharing between the consumptive users, the irrigators, the towns and industry, mining
and so on. And at the same time there was a willingness from government to encourage
aboriginal involvement in water planning. To look at including aboriginal values in
water planning, to look at this concept of cultural flows, to look at opportunities for
aboriginal communities for commercial use of water.