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Aboriginal Waterways Assessments providing a platform for two-way knowledge sharing

A relationship of collaboration and knowledge sharing is at the centre of a partnership between the First Peoples of the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (RMMAC), the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) and the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board. 

Aboriginal Waterways Assessments are undertaken along the Murray to measure the cultural health of the River and its wetlands.

Through initiatives like the South Australian Riverland Floodplains Integrated Infrastructure Program (SARFIIP) Pike and Katarapko floodplain environmental works as well as through The Living Murray’s Chowilla Floodplain program, the parties have developed a close working relationship which is helping inform decision-making on local environmental management.

This important partnership continues with RMMAC recently undertaking a number of Aboriginal Waterways Assessments (AWAs) along the Murray to measure the cultural health of the River and its wetlands.

Spokesperson for RMMAC, Sheryl Johnson said undertaking the AWA’s mean they are better placed to negotiate for their Country’s water needs, interests and cultural values across the Murray-Darling Basin system.

“The AWA process creates many opportunities for two-way knowledge sharing.  First Peoples can better understand water planning and management and DEW staff get to learn from the Indigenous community about their cultural values and interests in a healthy River system,” Sheryl said.

“Learning from one another and sharing our experiences and knowledge of the River and the ecosystem will help us make better management decisions as a broader River community.

“One of the sites we undertook an AWA was at Coombool Swamp on Chowilla. This particular site received environmental water in 2016 through the Chowilla regulator operation and then natural flooding.

“With the drier conditions that followed, up to five gigalitres from The Living Murray (TLM) program was pumped to the site between September 2019 and January 2020.

“In assessing the environmental water responses at the AWA site, we were pleased to spot a large number of swans and 13 swan nests containing fresh eggs.

“Swans are ngatji (totemic animal) and it’s quite rare to find this many nests and eggs, as their numbers have severely declined over the years.” 

Following the AWA assessment and support from the First Peoples, additional environmental water for the site was sought and provided to ensure the swan breeding could be completed.

DEW’s First Peoples Coordinator Fiona Giles said AWA’s are a great way for the Traditional Owners to extend their knowledge in water planning and management of the environment.

“This year, we involved a number of younger members of the First Peoples community, which is really important to ensure knowledge sharing and relationships continue into the next generation,” Fiona said.

“We’re now in the process of using the information and results gained through the AWA’s to inform internal policies and plans for environmental water delivery to key wetlands and floodplains in the region.

“Undertaking environmental watering at these sites will assist with improving the health and condition of the landscapes, and ensuring natural life cycles of native animals, birds and fish.”

Fiona said the First Peoples had contributed greatly to high profile DEW projects including a number on the Pike and Katarapko floodplains.

“They provided important insights through cultural heritage management plans, undertaking cultural heritage surveys of the sites before construction commenced and cultural heritage monitoring during construction,” Fiona said.

“Following construction, the First Peoples continue to be involved in the ongoing monitoring of protected cultural heritage sites and their surrounding environments.”

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