Understanding cultural flows: a coordinated research effort in pursuit of Aboriginal water rights

Friday, 3 June 2016
Michael Anderson
Darren Perry

For Aboriginal peoples, water sustains a complex relationship between the environment, individuals and their spirits. As described by Euahlayi Elder Michael Anderson, “to disturb these ecosystems is to destroy Aboriginal people’s ancestors; without Country and connection we become spiritually sterile. As a culture and as a people, cultural water flows are absolutely essential to our wellbeing”. Securing these entitlements for the spiritual, cultural, social, environmental and economic benefit of Indigenous Nations is the key function of the National Cultural Flows Research Project.

Driven by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people, the project is working to embed Indigenous water allocations into Australia's water planning and management regimes. Social, cultural and hydrological research is underway at two case study sites in the Murray-Darling Basin - Toogimbie Wetlands in the south and Gooraman Swamp in the north. Aboriginal communities at these sites are developing transparent and replicable ways to define and quantify their cultural water needs, looking at the different approaches required in highly regulated and largely unregulated systems. Through a combination of modelling and watering trials, the field research will provide a solid basis for identifying the policy, legislative and institutional changes that are needed to give effect to meaningful Aboriginal water rights.