Lake Eyre Basin - Aboriginal Way Map

The Lake Eyre Basin Aboriginal Way Map took 12 years to make and features songlines, historical trade routes and other cultural information about the basin, which covers 71 language groups. It is an invaluable education resource on the richness, diversity and vibrancy of Aboriginal cultures across the Lake Eyre Basin.

The Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee have handed over the Map to AIATSIS for future management.

Move your cursor over any area of the map to reveal the 'magnifying glass' circle. Scroll your mouse wheel to zoom in or out within the magnifying circle. On touch screens, tap once on the screen to show the magnifying circle. Then, keep your finger on the screen and move the circle around to show the zoomed in map.

Purchase your map from our online store


At 1.2 million square kilometres, the Lake Eyre Basin covers almost one-sixth of Australia and is one of the world's largest internally draining river systems. The Basin includes large parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland, as well as a small part of western New South Wales. The area supports a range of nationally important natural, social and economic values and about 60,000 people live and work in the Basin.

Aboriginal Lands

Although the amount of Aboriginal-owned land in the Lake Eyre Basin is relatively small, significant areas are managed and used by Aboriginal people.

In South Australia, land holdings under Aboriginal management or co-management include Nantawarrina and Mount Willoughby Indigenous Protected Areas, Witjira National Park, Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park, Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre Basin National Park, Strzelecki Regional Reserve, Coongie Lakes National Park, Flinders Ranges National Park, Finniss Springs, Leigh Creek Station, Myrtle Springs Station, Mount Serle Station and Nepabunna. The balance of the Lake Eyre Basin within South Australia is subject to native title claims.

In the Northern Territory section of the Basin, some quite large areas are held under freehold by Aboriginal Land Trusts. These areas include the Ltyente Apurte (Santa Teresa), Angarapa, Alyawarra, Ltalaltuma and Roulpmaulpma Aboriginal land trusts. One of the largest parcels is the North and North West Simpson Desert area, Atnetye Land Trust, most of which was formerly vacant crown land. The area includes Apiwentye Station (4,000 km2; formerly Atula Station) which has been owned and successfully operated by Aboriginal people since 1989. Several other pastoral leases, Ooratippra, Huckitta, Loves Creek and Alcoota are owned and operated by Aboriginal organisations. Many of the national parks and reserves in the Northern Territory part of the Basin, including the West MacDonnell (Tyurretye) National Park, Finke Gorge National Park and some smaller conservation areas such as Trephina Gorge Nature Park and the Dulcie Range National Park, are now under joint management with Aboriginal people.

In Queensland, there is very little Aboriginal-owned land, but the Munga-Thirri National Park is jointly managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and the Traditional Owners. A very large proportion of the Desert Channels area (the entire Queensland section of the Basin), is subject to native title claim and, as at September 2013, there have been several native title determinations on Pitta Pitta and Indjalandji-Dhidhanu country.

Aboriginal Participation

​For tens of thousands of years the Basin has supported Aboriginal settlement and use, reflected today in the diversity of Aboriginal cultures and the many areas of high cultural significance. The life patterns and resource economics of early Aboriginal inhabitants of the Lake Eyre Basin (LEB) were largely determined by the boom and bust cycles of the landscape. Food production associated with the rain events and the refuge offered by widely scattered springs and waterholes during the dry periods remain an integral part of Aboriginal culture and life in their traditional country.

Today, a significant percentage of the 60,000 people living within the LEB are Aboriginal. In the Northern Territory and South Australian parts of the Basin, Aboriginal people make up 40 - 90% of the total resident population.

The Lake Eyre Basin Agreement requires the appropriate representation of Aboriginal interests in the development and implementation of policies and strategies for the Basin. Since the LEB Agreement was signed in 2000, the LEB Ministerial Forum has funded and implemented a number of Aboriginal communication, consultation and participation initiatives in the Basin to achieve this purpose.

At its third meeting in June 2004, the LEB Ministerial Forum endorsed the following six guiding principles for Indigenous engagement in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement area:

Three main principles:

  1. Sustained effort - our Indigenous engagement should not be a fixed-term project, but a commitment to a long-term program.
  2. Face-to-face contact with Indigenous people is essential - this will require regular consultation and/or regular gatherings.
  3. Coordination with other groups - the work done to engage Indigenous people in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement must assist and complement the similar efforts of other groups in the Basin, not duplicate or hinder their work.

Three secondary principles:

  1. Local protocols - Indigenous communication protocols vary across the Basin, we need to be sensitive to these differences and conform with local protocols, particularly in regard to who represents or speaks for what areas.
  2. Mutual cultural learning - including cultural awareness for non-Aboriginal participants in the Lake Eyre Basin process, and capacity building for Aboriginal people to understand and influence government programs.
  3. Provide regular feedback - regular communication with Indigenous groups and communities should keep them informed of how their concerns are being acted upon.

Aboriginal people are participating in the LEB Agreement in numerous ways, including:

  • Representation on the Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee - six of the seventeen members represent Indigenous interests across NT, SA and Qld;
  • Attendance at Lake Eyre Basin Aboriginal Forums, most recently in Tibooburra in 2011 and prior to that in 2009 (Birdsville), 2006 (Mount Serle) and 2004 (Hamilton Downs);
  • Through involvement in major communications efforts like the LEB Aboriginal Map and Booklet project; and
  • Traditional Owners and Indigenous Rangers accompanying and assisting scientists on the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment Program.

Other facts

  • The Arabana people, traditional owners of the Lake Eyre region, call the lake "Kati Thanda", a term now officially recognised in the dual place name "Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre".
  • Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre is a 'wetland' in the desert.
  • Some wetlands in the Basin support fish known to reach 80 years old.
  • The Lake Eyre Basin is more than five times the size of Victoria.
  • On average, only a tiny fraction of the rain that falls in the Basin will flow all the way to Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre.
  • The channel country and waterholes are home to millions of breeding birds after rain.
  • At 9,700km2, Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre is the fourth largest terminal lake in the world.
  • Kati Thanda - Lake Eyre lies in the most arid part of Australia, with an average annual rainfall of less than 125mm and an evaporation rate of 2.5m.
  • The Lake Eyre Basin Drainage Division is the only Australian drainage division that doesn't reach the coast.

Content and text provided courtesy of Lake Eyre Basin - Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Last reviewed: 3 Jul 2020