Steven L Ross
David RJ Crew
Jeanette L Crew
Indigenous people in south-east Australia have developed strategies and theories around the allocation of cultural water and the broader notion of ‘cultural flows’ in response to two key triggers: the poor environmental health of the inland river country and the historic and contemporary failure of the Australian state and common law to recognise the property rights and political status of Australia’s first nations. In the Murray-Darling Basin, the very recent marked decline in river health and long history of agricultural settlement and colonisation are felt acutely by the traditional owners, whose ancestral homes are now inseparable from the new communities based on the agricultural and irrigation industries. In this paper we consider the experiences of the Wamba Wamba and Perrepa Perrepa people and the work of one of their key organisations, Yarkuwa Indigenous Knowledge Centre Aboriginal Corporation. The discussion does not encompass the whole of Wamba Wamba country but focuses on the Edward/Kolety and Wakool rivers and the town of Deniliquin, where Yarkuwa is based. The issues of water scarcity, drought and increased temperatures with climate change provide the context for this research, although the project started during a series of wet years, which immediately followed the long drought that dominated the start of the 21st century.
Water management has had a profound impact on this country, and Yarkuwa is keen to facilitate discussion and research on the full and meaningful participation of traditional owners in decisions about water management. The Yarkuwa board and membership argue strongly for the inclusion of cultural flows in the Edward/Kolety - Wakool river system, and this paper explores the meaning and potential of this. No cultural water allocation has been secured for the Edward/Kolety and Wakool rivers; however, this research has been supported by Yarkuwa as part of building capacity among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people for cultural water governance in the Edward/Kolety - Wakool.
This report presents a case study on the Yarkuwa's approach to cultural flows, providing valuable insights for other Indigenous groups seeking greater involvement in water management and planning, particularly in over-allocated rivers.
P McGrath and T Bauman, 'Anthropologies of change: Theoretical and methodological challenges', Select proceedings, AIATSIS Research Publications, Canberra, 2012.