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Aboriginal partnerships in water resource planning

Aboriginal South Australians are the first peoples of our state and have occupied and managed these lands and waters since creation (dreaming). 

For Nations along the River Murray, freshwater flows are seen as the life blood of the living body of the River Murray, Lower Lakes and Coorong. Creation stories recall the river’s formation and the setting down of rules for its management.  

"Our traditional management plan was don't be greedy. Don't take any more than you need and respect everything around you. That's the management plan – it's such a simple management plan, but so hard for people to carry out." Tom Trevorrow, Ngarrindjeri Elder (deceased).

Implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan

South Australia is responsible for the development of three Water Resource Plans (WRPs) as part of implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (Basin Plan). A number of Aboriginal Nations have Country that is covered by the three WRP areas.

Under the Basin Plan, South Australia must work with Aboriginal Nations to identify their objectives and outcomes in relation to managing water resources of the WRP areas. South Australia must also have regard to identified Aboriginal values and uses of the water resources and consider the views of Aboriginal people with respect to cultural flows.  Having regard could be achieved in many ways including, but not limited to:

  • input to Water Allocation Plans and water affecting activity rules in NRM Plans
  • input to wetland, floodplain and Ramsar management plans
  • integrating Aboriginal interests and values into NRM projects and governance
  • supporting Caring for Country programs.

South Australia’s approach to Aboriginal engagement in implementing the Basin Plan will support Nations to input separately as well as a collective to developing the WRPs. Our approach has been guided by the advice of Traditional Owners from South Australia, as well as connected Nations in New South Wales and Victoria.  

What Aboriginal Nations say about the Basin Plan

In early 2016 DEWNR supported the SA Aboriginal Nations Water Workshop to understand how Nations wanted to be engaged in the Basin Plan implementation.  A number of Aboriginal Nations with connections to the Basin attended.  A video has been produced to share attendee’s thoughts and ideas about the Basin Plan.

A follow up workshop was held with Aboriginal Nations from the SA Murray-Darling Basin in late 2016 at Warriparinga, Adelaide. The workshop outcomes report provides an overview of discussions and Aboriginal Nations perspectives on water management. As part of the event the Nations also developed a Workshop Statement.

How we are working with Nations

In addition to joint Nation gatherings, the department is using a number of other approaches to engage Aboriginal Nations in developing the WRPs, mostly determined by their existing Nation-based structures. 

One approach is supported by a Water Resource Planning Statement of Commitment between the department, SAMDB NRM Board, SE NRM Board and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to guide Ngarrindjeri engagement.

The department is also supporting the employment of Aboriginal Water Coordinators to assist in the WRP engagement process and support the capacity of their host Aboriginal organisations.

The department is also committed to support Aboriginal Nations' desire to use a country-based planning approach to engage in Basin Plan implementation. This process, led by Aboriginal Nations will seek to develop country plans with each Nation in the SA Murray-Darling Basin that meet Basin Plan requirements but also establish a platform for ongoing meaningful engagement in NRM and Caring for Country.   

Want more information?

Murray-Darling Basin Aboriginal Nations Workshop

Contact us

If you would like more information or would like to involved in this engagement process please contact Mr Lachlan Sutherland on 8204 9363 or

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