1. Ngunnawal Country

1.2 Aboriginal water management

This pottery represents the Ngunnawal river systems: the water and the rocky surfaces through which it flows. Aunty Loretta Halloran (see Box: Passing cultural knowledge on, section 1.1 Background: Caring for Country) is the creator of the pot and through her daughter, Ngunnawal elder Caroline Hughes, she has given us permission to reproduce the photograph. Photo by David Appleton

Following the Millennium Drought, which gripped the ACT and much of Australia in the early 2000s, Australians reconsidered how to manage water. All states and territories now incorporate Indigenous, social and spiritual considerations when planning water supply and use, and take into account possible native title rights to water. Aboriginal peoples have much to offer, and society has much to gain, by including Aboriginal people and knowledge in river management.

Water is critical to Aboriginal people’s identity. Traditional knowledge of finding, moving and protecting water has been vital to living in a dry landscape. This knowledge can influence sustainability across Australia.

‘Look after the water and the water will look after you’.

The Ngunnawal people care for their river Country, including the Murrumbidgee, Molonglo and Cotter rivers, which are part of the Murray-Darling Basin and represent Songlines and Dreamings.

The ACT Government works with Traditional Custodians to protect ‘cultural flows’. These are water entitlements of sufficient quantity and quality to contribute to spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic conditions of Aboriginal peoples.

Although the recognition of Ngunnawal cultural values and water requirements is better than in the past, more needs to be done to protect water-dependent Indigenous culture, such as including (and reporting and monitoring) Ngunnawal cultural objectives when managing water.

Kambah Pool on the Murrumbidgee River. Photo: Matthew Sherren Photography