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Aboriginal water values and management in northern Australia

YouTube Ref: http://youtu.be/XMKYybtUJ-o

Date: 10 February, 2013


VOICE OVER My name is Patricia Marrfurra McTaggart. My country is Malfiyin, near the Daly River in the Northern Territory. This story is about our rivers and our bush tucker.


VOICE OVER Collecting bush tucker is important – it gets people out on country, it is healthy for us and makes us feel good. Collecting bush tucker heals our spirit and teaches young people about country and culture.


INTERVIEW - Christina Yambeing Dad used to tell us stories, about Dreamtime stories or about our country, you know. Mum used to tell us stories about her dreaming. We used to take that fish net over to the creek when there were lots of fish.

VOICE OVER The Mabo decision in 1992 means that our customary laws are now recognized. This means that our use of land and water is protected.

But when decisions about water are being made, we are often not included. Those rivers, creeks and billabongs are important to us. We rely on those places for food and medicines.

Other people say they need water for their businesses such as farming and cattle, but no one has really talked to us about how important those water places are for hunting and fishing practices.

INTERVIEW – Dr Sue Jackson Well the National Water Policy of 2004, the National Water Initiative it's called, for the first time in Australia's history recognised the importance of water to Aboriginal societies. And it actually urges Australian State governmentsto include Aboriginal people in water planning, to understand their water use requirements, and to consider the impacts of water use decisions on their societies, their economies and their culture.


INTERVIEW – Dr Sue Jackson We haven't had a lot of information about how people use aquatic environments. We haven't had a lot of information about the value of those environments to Aboriginal people, and there's been very little understanding of the way in which changes to water use and water management in a wider Australia may affect Aboriginal people.

VOICE OVER So CSIRO, as part of the Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge Research Program, looked at how changing water uses may affect my community in the Daly, as well as communities in the Fitzroy River in Western Australia.

WILD AUDIO Pippa Featherston - "So you went somewhere Saturday?"

INTERVIEW - Emma Woodward So it's really about building relationships and trust from the beginning and that drive came from the indigenous communities themselves.

VOICE OVER Eighty-two households were interviewed eight times a year. People were asked about when they went fishing or hunting, where they went, and what they caught.

INTERVIEW - Benigna Ngulfundi Barramundi, Pig nosed Turtle, Catfish.

VOICE OVER The researchers also wanted to know about country and the seasons.

WILD AUDIO Biddy Lindsay – "That one Christmas come. This one year round for eating. This one now they're drying up. This one year round like that one in the billabong."

VOICE OVER Seasonal calendars were made with four different language groups. They are based on Aboriginal knowledge of the plants and animals harvested throughout the year.

WILD AUDIO Emma -"Where do you get that one from Biddy?"

VOICE OVER This information was collected to get a better picture of how and when food is collected during the year, and how we read the different signs of animals and plants.

WILD AUDIO Sue - "In the middle of the dry season, we've got people going out and catching 5 turtles at a time."

INTERVIEW - Miriam-Rose Baumann Non-indigenous people have four seasons. We, the people have many seasons and the best time is the Dry Season for when you go and hunt and forage for these things that are in the water, or billabongs or the creeks.

VOICE OVER My calendar - the 'Ngan'gi Seasons' - was the first. It follows the life stages of Wurr mui, the local spear Grass.

INTERVIEW - Patricia McTaggart From the time like, from the new shoot up to when it's died off and like burnt. All in between that cycle of the spear grass, we hunt like, certain different things to eat.

VOICE OVER When the Wurr mui stalks start to die and turn a reddish colour, Agurri, the black rock kangaroo sings the wind from the east. The wind brings the dragonfly who tells you it's a good time for Freshwater Prawn and barramundi.

INTERVIEW - Patricia McTaggart When the wind from that direction coming, then we know it's time to go and look for barramundi. As soon as that happens we can feel it telling us Dry Season's here, you know. And we see signs like dragonflies coming the same time as the wind, and its telling us that the Dry Season is here and there's going to be a bit more fish in the river."

VOICE OVER As the billabong levels drop during the Dry Season, plants can be collected along the edges. These include Minimindi, the Waterlily; Miwulngini, the Lotus Lily and Midigu, the Water Chestnut. This is also the time for Mibuymadi, the Bush Banana and Migerum, the Native Peanut.

WILD AUDIO Biddy - "…and you brush them up, finish, take them out and eat them like nut, peanut. Yeah. This one, medicine for pneumonia and all that."

VOICE OVER Red Kapok flowers tell us that Freshwater Crocodiles have laid their eggs - we can go collect them. Bark peeling off the Ghost Gums tells us Bull Sharks are fat and ready to be hunted in the rivers. And with less water, it is much easier to collect mussels and crabs from the banks of billabongs and creeks.


INTERVIEW - Miriam-Rose Baumann And it's not just the things that live in the water. There are other things that are growing by the banks. Stuff like berries and plums and bulbs and it's because of, you know, after the rain there's other things that are growing around the river banks as well and in the billabongs.

VOICE OVER By the Late Dry Season, most of our hunting trips are to the billabongs. As the water levels drop, the muddy banks are exposed. Plenty of Long-necked Turtles can be found hibernating under the mud. We use digging sticks to find them.

Long-necked Turtles are our favourite food. They make up over half of the food we collect in the Daly River. Researchers compared the value of our bush foods, such as turtle, to the foods we buy from the store.

If farming were to change the way the river flows there could be less animals to hunt, and it would cost our families a lot more to buy food.

During the Wet Season the Daly floods and the river is too high to fish.

INTERVIEW - Benigna Ngulfundi And I like going fishing for anything like bream, barramundi, pig nose turtle, catfish. What other one? Shark! I like eating shark.

WILD AUDIO Pippa Featherston - "So you went fishing yesterday?" "Yes." Pippa Featherston - "Catch anything?" "Five turtle and my other cousin's sister, she caught eight bream and she brought it back for her family to eat them."

VOICE OVER At the end of the Wet, when the river is high, fruit like Mimeli, the black currantand Miwisamuy, the white currant, are collected. Echidna and Rock Python are hunted.

INTERVIEW - Emma Woodward So we found that people are sharing resources on a very broad scale. So you have family groups going out hunting and fishing. They're bringing some back to their own household, but a lot is being distributed very widely, not only within the community but with communities further upstream and down stream. And there's also a bit of resource exchange going on. So some communities might be able to get magpie goose eggs, for example, and they're flying them up to another community who's exchanging them with turtle to another community. So this has really important repercussions and implications for water research managers. They need to be thinking about making planning or the implications of water allocation decisions on not just a specific community, but on a much broader geographic scale.

VOICE OVER If food currently caught from the river and floodplains had to be replaced with supermarket food there would be less money for us to spend on other things.

INTERVIEW - Dr Sue Jackson Very often the water needs that Aboriginal groups have can be quite different to other groups. So if groups like recreational fishers, and conservation groups and farmers are the ones that, are only, their interests are only reflected in water use decision, then we will see that Aboriginal people miss out and we may see some quite harmful decisions that aren't in the best interests of Aboriginal people."

WILD AUDIO Emma - "So will you take some of this and put it out in the billabong where there's salvinia?" "Yes."

VOICE OVER With these results researchers can work out which are the most valuable plants and animals, and the important places for hunting and fishing. They can look at how changes in using water may upset things. If farmers take too much water during the dry season, this could be a problem for important fish, such as black bream and barramundi.

These two fish are important to Aboriginal people. Nearly 1000 black bream and barramundi were caught during the time when the researchers were doing the surveys. This information is important for water planning because development of water resources – for example, building dams for farms – can be a big problem for the river flows. We now have information water planners can use to work out how changes in water use may affect Aboriginal people.

WILD AUDIO Emma - "First activities that we did with people in the communities was river use mapping."

VOICE OVER It provides a strong and important base for decisions about water use.

INTERVIEW - Miriam-Rose Baumann The river is like the heart, the creeks and the springs that run into it are like the veins in our body. And that feeds the river, especially in the Dry Season and of course the springs come from the aquifer. If people drain the aquifer out to farm and all that, it will kill the river and kill the things that are marine life in the water as well.

INTERVIEW - Dr Sue Jackson If farming or other water use does increase in the Daly River catchment for example over the next 10 or 20 years, we'll be able to look back at this data and water planners will be able to look back at this information and say "well 10 years ago this was how people were using the country. And they were collecting these kinds of resources in these kinds of quantities". If those patterns are still evident 10 or 20 years time, then we will know that water use activity has not had any detrimental impact on Aboriginal people. So it's a very important baseline for helping decision makers in the future be confident that the water decisions they have made, that the water use plans they have, the water use allocation regimes are indeed reflecting the interests and needs of Aboriginal people to continue their subsistence resource use.

VOICE OVER For thousands of years Aboriginal people have used these waterways and continue hunting and fishing practices to this day. It is vital that kids also have the opportunity to learn how to hunt and fish these places. It is really important that we document how we use the rivers as it shows other people the connection Aboriginal people have with water places.

INTERVIEW - Patricia McTaggart Working closely with Mother Earth, we will work together to try an - she provides us with food and in return we look after her. By not doing anything that's not pleasing her.

VOICE OVER To make these important water decisions we need to work together with other water users, including farmers, to make sure the plants and animals are protected and our traditions are preserved.


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