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Yarning circles foster sharing of traditional Ngarrindjeri water knowledge

Six yarning circles were held recently along the Lower Murray from Tailem Bend to Meningie where the Ngarrindjeri community, the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation (NAC) and the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) came together to share their experience and knowledge around water management and the River Murray.

Yarning circles foster sharing of traditional Ngarrindjeri water knowledge
A yarning circle being filmed at Tailem Bend.

Yarning circles have been used by Indigenous people across the globe for centuries - to learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships, and to preserve and pass on cultural knowledge.

An initiative of the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation, these gatherings were about understanding and documenting Ngarrindjeri cultural values, stories and priorities to better inform decision-making for the planning and delivery of water for the environment to Ngarrindjeri Ruwe (Country).

Tim Hartman, Chief Executive Officer from ‎the NAC, said that as Ngarrindjeri, they have a cultural obligation to care for and manage country.

"Yarning circles help build, share, and express knowledge though a process of open dialogue and deep reflection," Tim said.

“For the Ngarrindjeri, our vision is all people caring, sharing, knowing and respecting the lands, the waters and all living things.”

Yarluwar Ruwe Project Coordinator for the NAC, Rick Hartman said the yarning circles Project has been a great opportunity to engage with his community on Country.

“I have had the privilege to be able to listen to their stories and experiences of growing up and living along our water ways,” Rick said.

“The knowledge shared will be important when providing input into future environmental watering activities.”

DEW Program Leader for the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth Carol Schmidt said the yarning circles helped foster the sharing of Ngarrindjeri stories and important cultural values while also helping to build relationships between the Ngarrindjeri community and departmental staff.

“As staff, we were seeking input from the Ngarrindjeri community on what’s culturally important to them e.g. particular wetland sites, protection of Ngartjis (totemic animals) or maintaining cultural practices on the land,” Carol said.

“Ngarrindjeri cultural values shared through the yarning circles will be incorporated into the annual planning process for the delivery of water for the environment to Ngarrindjeri Country.”

DEW Project Officer Kirsty Wedge, said a deeper understanding of Ngarrindjeri knowledge and cultural values will allow new management interventions focussed on restoring the ecological character of the River and Coorong to consider these values.

“It will also support the critical partnerships with Ngarrindjeri to protect and promote Ngarrindjeri culture, heritage and their unique relationships and responsibilities for their Country,” Kirsty said.

The yarning circles are one of a number of projects undertaken in partnership between the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation and DEW.

Earlier this year the department announced it was partnering with the Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation to develop a database of cultural knowledge to inform the future management of the Coorong.

Check out the short YouTube video of the recent yarning circles: https://youtu.be/tK4TdPIlFDo

This project was funded by The Living Murray, a joint initiative funded by the New South Wales, Victorian, South Australian and Commonwealth Governments, coordinated by the Murray–Darling Basin Authority.