Incorporating the cultural values and perspectives of Australia’s First Peoples (Aboriginal People) into water planning and environmental water management

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth, yet it has been the traditional lands of its original inhabitants, Australia’s First Peoples, for thousands of generations. Protecting water landscapes (surface and ground water) has always been a high priority for survival in a dry landscape, and protecting water remains a cultural obligation. The challenge for First Peoples is to ensure their value and relationship with water is not diminished by modern day water planning or excluded from environmental flow management. First Peoples acquire the right wisdom and traditional knowledge from their Elders, and many indicate that their worldview sees water as inseparable from the land and the sky, bound by traditional lore and customs for its protection. For Australia’s First Peoples, occupying an arid landscape, traditional knowledge of finding, re-finding and protecting water sites has been integral to their survival for so long. This project explores relationships between First Peoples and water planning and environmental water management in three ways:
1. History, challenges and institutional responses with integrating First Peoples cultural values into water planning and management are discussed through a reflection on the NSW Aboriginal Water Initiative. A comparison is made with Māori engagement in freshwater management in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
2. Having established the need for First Peoples’ engagement in water management, a methodology is proposed that lays out a set of formal steps to structure that engagement.
3. That methodology is then applied to a set of case studies for groundwater and surface water management. The potential benefits for achieving resilient arrangements around water policy are illustrated through application to a case study in the Gwydir wetlands in northern New South Wales, Australia.
This thesis uses a range of sources of information including personal reflection, narrative history, Traditional Knowledge and selected surveys to illustrate the potential to bring diverse knowledges together in a way that can effectively contribute to inclusive, sustainable and effective water management and policy.
Date of Award2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRoss Thompson (Supervisor) & Peter Radoll (Supervisor)

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