Water management options for urban and rural Australia
Aboriginal knowledge and cultural values of water
Tuesday 7 September
Mr Bradley Moggridge
Indigenous Water Research Project Officer
CSIRO Land and Water
Bradley Moggridge is a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation in north-west NSW. Brad has a MSc in hydrogeology and has been recently appointed to the First Peoples' Water Engagement Council administered by the National Water Commission.
Brad has previously worked with a private consultancy, and has significant experience in environmental protection, regulation and operational policy, with former NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water. He initiated and provided information for a series of environmental resource handbooks and DVDs to engage NSW Aboriginal communities. Brad has also had four years experience working in local government.
He has an interest in groundwater dependant cultural sites in the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority; in the effects of change in water availability on indigenous people of the Murray Darling Basin; and in indigenous cultural values and water.
I will start with a quick question: can anyone name the cultural or significant water site in this slide? It is Boobera Lagoon, in my traditional lands, Kamilaroi country, north-west New South Wales.
Boobera Lagoon is very significant to the Kamilaroi people and surrounding nations; the Kurreah, a rainbow serpent cultural hero, rests at the bottom of the lagoon. It took a long fight for a lot of my relatives to get that site back into Aboriginal management. Prior to that, there were water-skiers and campers all over it, and obviously the spirits were not happy. It took a long fight and they got the land management back.
1. Who I am as identity is important and NAIDOC 2010 ...]
This slide gives you an outline of my talk. ‘Identity’ for Aboriginal people is important because attempts to erode our identity have been made over many years. I will talk a bit about NAIDOC, which was quite significant this year in talking about leaders and heroes.
This is a bit about me. I was born and bred in western Sydney. The slide shows my two little ones. We moved to Canberra at the end of April and it has been a great journey. We are enjoying it; Canberra is a great place for a young family. The map shows the Kamilaroi nation, which is quite a large nation in north-west New South Wales. The Macintyre River is at the top of it and the Queensland border covers a bit of it, but it does go up into Queensland.
Culturally, I have been lucky and unlucky. Lucky in that I have a huge, proud Murri family. My Nan is still with us, she is 92 this year and going strong—well, her bones and joints are not so strong, but her mind and her knowledge and wisdom are still very strong. And I have been lucky to get a good education. I started in geology, after high school. I don’t know how I ended up there, but I was in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia looking for uranium in a national park. That did not fit well. I came back home to Sydney and said, ‘I’ve got to change that.’ Apart from having a great life experience in the Great Sandy Desert, shaking out centipedes and scorpions from my swag every night and checking my shoes every day, I think in the end I knew that I had to move to something else. I decided to do environmental science; I did that at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney and thoroughly enjoyed it. My project at the end involved assisting Bushcare teams to identify Aboriginal sites and I produced a guide for one of the local councils. So that was good fun.
I will tell you a little story about that. I was looking at one of the sites with the—I think his title was—cultural officer for the Hornsby council; he was Chinese. We were walking along the Berowra Creek in northern Sydney and I did not feel too good about the site. He said, ‘We’re coming up to some engravings,’ and there was a natural water-course nearby. I said, ‘Look, I think we might have to keep moving on; I don’t feel too good.’ He said, ‘What’s your problem? It’s a women’s site.’ I suppose that highlights one of the issues of cultural awareness—what that means—and I suppose that someone was telling me that I should not be there.
The unlucky bit—I suppose there is always a bad side—is that I did not grow up on my country and I can’t actually speak my traditional language. I know the rude words, but I suppose it is like that with every language!
[Slide—Unsung Heroes: closing the gap by leading their way ...]
NAIDOC 2010: a lot of people were involved in its activities and it was quite a significant event. I was lucky enough to deliver a speech for CSIRO at Discovery; they called it the ‘inaugural NAIDOC speech’. I was honoured to do that in NAIDOC Week this year. Unsung heroes are a big part of Aboriginal culture. We have our fighters today and those who have gone before us, and I think we just have to keep fighting the fight. As for ‘closing the gap’, I think it is more like ‘mind the gap’; it is getting bigger or smaller, whichever way you look at it. But I think our heroes are important, and we need to acknowledge that.
[Slide—Unsung Heroes and Leaders ...]
One of the big issues for our heroes and leaders today is that they do not get an opportunity to influence on a grand scale. Their local issues are so huge and it is a big battle for them: most of the time they can’t get to the national agenda because they are so busy with local issues. As for me, I do not see myself as a leader as such; I think I am just in debt to my ancestors and I will just keep battling along. I suppose that now I have infiltrated the system and am with CSIRO, I have an opportunity to do some good things with such a key research body. It has a great name in the science world and, as a student, I always dreamed of working for CSIRO and I think, ‘Well, I’m living the dream.’
A dilemma for my generation and my mum’s generation, I suppose, is our demographics. Aboriginal demographics is a big issue: 75 per cent are under the age of 24, which is a huge statistic; and our knowledge-holders are something like only the 1 or 2 per cent at the top, and they are the ones that everyone wants to talk to. Our old people do not live for as long as they should and the unfortunate thing is that a lot of them take their stories and knowledge to the grave. So we are at huge risk of losing far too much. What we need to do is to sit down and listen to these people. Later on I will talk a bit more about why we should listen.
[Slide—Aboriginal Water Knowledge = Survival ...]
As for Aboriginal water knowledge, it is quite simple: we are still here, climate change and all. If you do not know where to find water on the driest inhabited continent on Earth then you are not going to survive. I think it is amazing that our ancestors survived in this landscape for so long. Generations of traditional knowledge are involved. When it comes down to it, not knowing where water is can be the deciding point for a nation, a family or a tribe—or whatever people want to call them. But a water site is a primary site in the landscape. I think it needs to be acknowledged that Aboriginal people knew how to find water—and the tricky bit, being a nomadic people, is knowing how to re-find water. That is bound up in the stories, the songs and the teachings, and also in the art. I think that is something that needs to be recognised.
The bold bit at the bottom of the slide is the sad factor: Aboriginal people are still not part of the ‘western equation’. They are not engaged in the process of deciding how, when and where water should flow in Australia, even though we hold that knowledge about the landscape.
[Slide—Aboriginal Water Knowledge
A hypothetical addition ...]
I made up a hypothetical addition: D + TLC = 5000+/-. D is the Dreaming; TLC is Traditional Law and Customs; 5000+/- represents generations of traditional knowledge held within Aboriginal culture (I base that on Wikipedia’s ‘one generation equals 20 years’). The science says that we have been here for up to 100,000 years; that is 5000 generations of knowledge going to waste.
That brings me to the next point: with the state of the water, the state of the climate and the state of country, I think it is only pertinent that Aboriginal people should be there to nurture country back to health. Why? Because of that long and deep relationship. We have a customary obligation. That is why we are here: to protect and look after country in order to make sure that it is there for the next generation. Even the science is saying that we are happier and healthier when we look after country. So I think the science is telling us something and it is time to listen. With working on country and caring for country, it is important for the policymakers to engage Aboriginal people and make sure that they are on country, protecting it.
Baiame’s Ngunnhu ...]
I always like word breaks. Baiame’s Ngunnhu on the Barwon River—the Brewarrina Aboriginal fish traps—is some of the oldest engineering on the planet. It comes from the Ngemba people. It is heritage listed on state and national listings; it is quite a significant site. I think Aboriginal people are too scared to touch the rocks because of the heritage listings: would they be breaking a law in maintaining culture? The two little dots in the picture on the right are a couple of little frogs on the Royal Brewarrina Golf Course; they were on the sand-oil greens. I thought just seeing those little frogs in such a dry place was quite an amazing sight.
[Slide—Opportunities—National Water Initiative ...]
What are the opportunities or the limited opportunities for Aboriginal people? I think the National Water Initiative was a big move. It recognised Aboriginal people’s rights to and interests in water. Paragraph 25(ix) states in part: ‘recognise Indigenous needs in relation to water access and management’. Paragraphs 52 to 54 specifically advise and recommend that planning authorities and water agencies engage with Aboriginal people and listen to them.
[Slide—Second Biennial Assessment of NWI ...
Finding 1.6 ...]
But, when it comes down to it, we have the biennial assessment of the National Water Initiative. The second one was in 2009 and it is no better. Finding 1.6 states in part: ‘It is rare for Indigenous water requirements to be explicitly included in water plans’. So, even with the National Water Initiative, things have not got better, and that is the policy guiding all the agencies on how to manage their water. So there are still some issues with water planning and engaging Aboriginal people. Then that finding is followed by recommendation 1.4 about what should happen. Those findings and recommendations are pretty similar to those in the first biennial assessment, so things really have not changed.
[Slide—Second Biennial Assessment of NWI ...
Finding 6.7 ...]
Finding 6.7 states in part that: ‘Water to meet Indigenous social, spiritual and customary objectives is rarely clearly specified in water plans.’ So, again, there is a huge gap. I know that the National Water Commission is looking to initiate a national study on Indigenous water needs and uses, and hopefully that will occur.
[Slide—The Third NWI Biennial Assessment ...]
The third biennial assessment is due in 2011. I hope that it won’t be a cut and paste from 2009, but there is a good chance that it will be. There has been the formation of the First Peoples’ Water Engagement Council and I was lucky enough and honoured to be appointed to that council earlier this year. We have met once and are due to meet again in September. There are seven representatives. The council’s role is quite important, especially in order to move away from that cut and paste scenario—policies, guidance and recommendations. So there is a big task ahead for the council and I am enjoying that challenge.
[Slide—UN Declaration ...]
We also have the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which the Australian federal government supported. Article 25 seems to be the most relevant for my talk. It states: ‘Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.’ That says a lot.
Thirlmere Lakes ...]
Thirlmere Lakes, on the left of the slide, are groundwater fed. It is quite a significant place. I think it is an old river course. It is in south-western Sydney. As you can see, to the left and another 50 metres on, there is a rock wall, and that is where the water used to be. It is not in good shape. Over to the right and further down towards the bottom of the slide is the Ngemba Mission Billabong, where the old Brewarrina Mission was. I think it is about to be declared an Indigenous Protected Area and the community there is engaging with that billabong to revitalise it and practise culture. It is one of those billabongs along the Barwon River that rarely goes dry. It is in traditional knowledge that, in times of drought, that is where you will find water. I saw some footage of it when, with the Barwon and Darling, all the water was moving down from southern Queensland; it was quite a sight.
[Slide—Value of Water to Aboriginal People.
. Aboriginal peoples’ value to water is sacred ...]
This is the bit that does not really get the acknowledgement it deserves. Water is not there just to drink and fish in. There’s a lot more to water; it is the essence of life. There is that old saying: without water, you die. It is that simple. As this slide states: ‘Aboriginal peoples’ value to water is sacred, deep and necessary for survival. It is protected by lore, which provides a system of sustainable management ensuring healthy people.’
In Aboriginal culture, there are strict rules around waterholes and water places whereby perhaps only certain people can go to those sites, or there are certain rules about how to access a site and how to drink or get water from a site. That ensured that you did not drink from or swim in the top pool, because that would contaminate the bottom pool. I suppose that it comes down to common sense; but it is protected by lore, and the Dreaming and the songs relate to those places. Connection to country does not separate the individual features of the landscape. So land, water and sky are all one; they are all interrelated. Non-Aboriginal laws separate them, they are called ‘silos’ and they are managed separately. So there is a difference there straight away.
[Slide—Value of Water to Aboriginal People
. Aboriginal cultural and economic values ...]
There are also the cultural and economic values of Aboriginal people that rarely, if ever, get a seat at the table, and the cultural economy is a big one that is starting to raise its head. I have put an example on this slide: 1 echidna may equal 3 yellow bellies. A lot of work is happening in Northern Australia that the tropical rivers mob and CSIRO are engaged in. They are looking at the species that are important and the cultural economy and relating that back to water allocations. If water is taken away for irrigation or development, what will happen to the cultural economy; how can Aboriginal people afford to go and buy three turtles or three black fish? You may think that barramundi is the no. 1 species, but in some areas it is some other species. Those sorts of issues do not really get a say in water planning.
That poor understanding leads to poor allocations and entitlements; most of the time they are zero and Aboriginal people are rarely engaged. Cultural water and cultural values of water are back where environmental water may have been 10, 15 or 20 years ago, and Aboriginal people find themselves struggling to understand the exclusive focus on ecological criteria.
[Slide—The Value of Healthy Water ...]
Another big thing is healthy water. You may have a lot of water, but it may be no good for drinking because it‘s saline. Aboriginal people see that healthy water is interrelated with healthy people, healthy country and healthy culture. I am on the National Water Quality Management Strategy review committee, trying to get physical and chemical scientists to understand how Aboriginal values may be impacted by poor water quality. Healthy water is at the centre of the slide. If there is healthy water, that is a good starting point.
[Slide—Water Dependent Cultural Values ...]
We often talk about cultural values so I sat down and tried to write out a few. Some are in text already, some I have been taught and some you just know. Most people would understand a lot of these. Creation sites and cultural heroes linking with the spiritual side: these are the non-tangible, non-physical sites. Most of the cultural heritage laws only protect the physical, so there has to be a ‘stone or a bone’. The sad thing is that these sites are vulnerable until they get protected. But the creation sites are some of the most significant sites that Aboriginal people see in the landscape and they all link to other places in that landscape.
Language connects culture to place. If a waterhole dries up, there goes that story; it has gone. Someone may belong to that waterhole; what happens to them? Their spirit has gone because that waterhole has gone dry. Resource sites are where you find traditional foods and medicines, artefacts, tools and arts and crafts. They are gender specific. There is men’s business and there is women’s business. Aboriginal people are seen as belonging to one culture, but there is that men’s business and women’s business, and they are still quite strong in their cultural aspects. Ceremonial sites are also very significant.
[Slide—Water Dependent Cultural Values
Wait there’s more ...]
Burial places and burial sites are still significant. ‘You wouldn’t treat your cemetery with no respect’, and it is similar for Aboriginal people. There are teaching sites, which are where the old people take the next generation. There are massacre sites, the places of frontier battles. They are still important in Aboriginal culture. They are sad places, but it is from those places that a lot of people’s spirits left the earth. So massacre sites are still quite important.
We find that tribal boundaries are a grey area because a lot of the old people are going or have gone. Tribal boundaries may never be resolved in some parts. Just think about the Sydney Basin, the most culturally disrupted place on the contine nt. That is a big issue for Aboriginal people in Sydney who are trying to fight for who they are and what they represent.
The other thing is that Aboriginal culture is evolving. Our old people are evolving to maintain the culture in order to teach the next generation not only what they knew about country but also what they are seeing with country. It would be interesting to see a state of the environment report by Aboriginal people; that would be a big one.
When it comes down to it, there are also the physical aspects of culturally dependent values: the middens, the camp sites, the scatters, the tool sites, the scarred and carved trees—which are also very important—the stone arrangements and obviously the in-stream values with the fish traps.
[Slide—Aboriginal Water Conceptual Model ...]
I mapped the things on this slide a few years ago. In the end, I suppose that I would call it my job description. I just wanted to map all the issues around Aboriginal water, including what affects it and what impacts it. As I said earlier, it is not just Aboriginal people going for a swim or catching a fish; in a modern-day sense, it is everything—the regulation and the strategic planning. What I call cultural water—environmental water—fits into that. It includes Aboriginal access and rights; language, knowledge and values; education and advocacy; and community engagement and consultation. A lot of Aboriginal people would say that they are the most consulted people in the country. Now they are beyond consultation and it is more about negotiation. I think there is always the surprise factor when you think about Aboriginal water being a bit more complex than I suppose most people see it.
. Aboriginal people rely heavily ...]
Something that is turning up in literature and on people’s lips is ‘cultural flow’. As I have said, Aboriginal people rely heavily on rivers, groundwater and wetlands to access their values both tangible and non-tangible.
The tangible values are the physical and the non-tangible values are the spiritual and stories, and many values require a flow. As I have mentioned, if a flow stops, that story and that connection is lost. Cultural flow and cultural water may be similar to environmental flow or environmental water, but I had a chat with one of the lads from the north-west of New South Wales and came up with my personal description of what they are. A cultural flow is water determined/managed by an Aboriginal group—or person—and ordered from a water authority to arrive at a certain time of year for a certain cultural purpose to sustain their local water dependent cultural values.
I will talk a little later about the gaps, especially around environmental flows. If you order certain water, it just turns up on country and the beasties love it. But is it sustaining cultural values? Noone has looked at that one. Cultural water is the body of water itself. That is the one that flows down the river or sits in the billabong and allows Aboriginal people to undertake their custodial and cultural responsibilities. This cultural water Aboriginal people engage and interact with rather than extract, irrigate or store for economic or environmental purposes. So it is the body of physical water that sits there and people can engage with it.
Water Plans generally assume ...]
It seems to be the case that environmental water is there and most water plans will assume that they will meet cultural values, including the social and economic ones. But the problem is that Aboriginal people are rarely engaged, as the National Water Initiative review says; they are not at the table when deciding where water goes or will remain and at what time. That is a huge gap. I suppose other issues include the lack of real data; that is a big one. I suppose, while I am at CSIRO, I will have an opportunity to fill some of that void. I don’t know whether we will ever get to a definition. There is a lack of policy guidance from all the water planning authorities. There is a lack of understanding from water planning authorities about Aboriginal values. So both sides need to come to the table and talk.
. In a report to the NSW Healthy Rivers Commission ...]
There are a few definitions that I have found. The report to the New South Wales Healthy Rivers Commission by Behrendt and Thompson in 2003 is quite basic: ‘Cultural flows should be an essential component of river management. A “cultural flow” can be set and monitored as sufficient flow in a suitable pattern to ensure the maintenance of Aboriginal cultural practices and connections with the rivers...’.
A definition by Professor Henry Atkinson, a Yorta Yorta elder, states: ‘”Cultural flows” are water entitlements that are legally and beneficially owned by the Indigenous Nations of a sufficient and adequate quantity and quality to improve the spiritual, cultural, environmental, social and economic conditions of those Indigenous Nations...’.
[Slide—Cultural Flow. Definitions and needs for ...]
When it comes down to the definition, there are also all those local issues that feed into the differences across the landscape. You have your rainforest country up north, your desert country, your brown muddy rivers and your salt water. It is going to be a big challenge. All those nations on that map—you may or may not agree with that map, I just use it as an example—will have to agree on the definition. It cannot be a government or anyone else: it has to be the appropriate people from each of those nations who agree on that definition. So that is a big challenge.
[Slide—Australia with NO Cultural Water]
This is a photo that I took out on the Hay Plains; the Nari Nari Tribal Council has a property out there. The next photo will explain why I like to use this one. I took this photo and then turned 180 degrees and took another photo. This is Australia with no cultural water—
[Slide—Australia with Cultural Water]
and this is Australia with cultural water. Which one do you want? The Nari Nari Tribal Council ordered water on a regular basis in order to deliver it to this wetland for cultural purposes. That is a great example of people on country protecting country. This is also a declared Indigenous Protected Area. It is a good example of how Aboriginal people are engaging in water matters, but they have huge pumping costs and infrastructure costs related to getting water to that site. They are paying a lot of money to get water there for the benefit of Australia. So that water is not being acquired for economic purposes; it is being acquired purely to make that wetland live.
[Slide—Gaps in Knowledge ...]
Quantifying a cultural flow is the next big challenge. Hopefully, CSIRO will allow me to measure that—to have a couple of test sites—just to get that credible evidence. The Murray-Darling Basin Plan is to be based on the best available science, but cultural values do not have any science. No research has compared a cultural flow to an environmental flow, and that is another big issue. The data on how Aboriginal people currently use water: there is no picture on how we engage with water—how we are using it, when we need it, or what we are using it for. I think that is a long-term issue. And there are substantial gaps in the science identifying Aboriginal water requirements culturally and economically, on top of the environmental and social aspects. That is the biggest problem for some of our old people who need to be at the table. They do not have the big reports and the glossy maps of the mining companies and the irrigators. Our old people’s knowledge is in here [indicates the heart] and in here [indicates the head]. It is held through songs and stories and traditional ecological knowledge.
This is old business for Aboriginal people but new business for CSIRO. A lot of work is happening in Northern Australia. CSIRO has an Indigenous Engagement Strategy and there are officers on the ground looking to get Aboriginal people involved in the science. CSIRO has four streams working towards getting Aboriginal people to the table in science—into the universities—and, obviously, practical experience is always a bonus. The Indigenous Employment Strategy is looking at increasing Indigenous employment to 2.5 per cent. That is a big call. There are 6500 people in CSIRO, so that will be a big challenge for them. But I will be backing them up and fighting the fight. Hopefully, I might have a team to network with; that would be great. CSIRO has held three roundtables around the country: one in Broome on Indigenous research, which was a big one; one in Mildura on water and climate change, which I attended and thought was quite a good meeting; and one in Adelaide on health. I suppose my employment by CSIRO is a tick in the box. I do not want it to be just a tick in the box; I want it to be real and obviously to deliver some outcomes. I think CSIRO genuinely has a strong interest in developing longterm research, and getting some black faces behind the lab bench with me would be a good thing.
[Slide—Wrap Up ...]
I have talked about our relationship with water. I suppose my relationship is based on the fact that I have been drinking it for 38 years, so I know what it is like. It is deep; it is long. Without water, you die. But Aboriginal people are not part of the water debate, even though there are opportunities, planning opportunities, in structural and governance systems out there that could allow it to happen. The National Water Initiative guides it, but the next thing will be the jurisdictions allowing it to happen.
Aboriginal people want to protect country, they have a custodial responsibility to do so. I have talked about the growing body of interest in a cultural flow, in cultural water. That may be the next new science that could change the water landscape. There are considerable gaps in understanding how water is used by Aboriginal people—economically, culturally and socially—and obviously there are links between traditional knowledge and Western science. There are some similarities but there are some big differences. I think, being a part of both systems, I can see those differences. While I am at CSIRO I will keep these issues on the lab bench.
Question: It seems to me that the places where you need water in the landscape are the most important thing. There are other aspects—and you alluded to this in the introduction to your talk—in that it is not water alone that provides cultural value for Aboriginal people but how it relates to the rest of the landscape. So it would seem really important to me that Aboriginal people having access to the wetlands and the rivers and being able to manage them in their way is really important—the flows might come through an environmental flow or be ordered up or just come down the river—and that looking after that place is not just an issue about getting water to it but also about being able to manage some of the other damage that has been done to the land, such as by pests and weeds, the death of red gums, and salinity and a whole lot of other things. How do you respond to that?
Brad Moggridge: Yes, that is a key point: the unregulated system. The issue of shepherding water down an unregulated system is a big one. How do you make sure that water gets there, especially when you look at some of the unregulated water systems in the interior? The coastal systems are not as deprived of water as the interior. But, as I have mentioned, there are the demographics too. Aboriginal people are going back to country. During the drought you would see a huge shift out of the regional centres, because there would be no water, no jobs and no market. But Aboriginal people are going back, so the numbers are returning. But, if there is water in the river because Aboriginal people wanted it, needed it and ordered it, it will have a bearing on the spirits of those people back down at the river. I think that is the benefit. You have your social benefits: the kids go to school because they want to get to the river in the afternoon and they will not be out doing silly things. So, with ‘water’ and ‘river’, if there is water in a place that is special to those people in that particular part of the landscape because they have had a say in where that water should be, those people are better off. Obviously, then comes the issue of caring for country: nurturing it and getting it back to where it was or rehabilitating it. That is where other programs that get rid of pests and weeds may come into play.
Question: Obviously a lot of the knowledge is oral, as you pointed out during your talk. It seems to me that there is a two-pronged element to that. One is how you gather that oral knowledge but also then how you keep that on the lab bench. Are you working with your hydrological knowledge to start adding a finer grain to the maps and the understanding of water and how it has worked historically, using some of those stories, or how are you making the connection between those two different ways of viewing the same issue?
Brad Moggridge: As an example, I just did a study with one of the catchment management authorities in Sydney, looking at culturally significant sites that are groundwater-dependent. You have the majority of the groundwater-dependent ecosystems mapped and then, with mapping of the cultural sites, there is overlap. But there are some that are culturally important, which are groundwater-dependent, that are not protected. So I suppose that it is linking those two and giving Aboriginal people a report to say, ‘Our sites are important too.’ I did not collect why they are important; I only said, ‘Tell me which sites are important and I will put a dot on the map.’ I did not want to know the stories, the songs or the relationships that they had with that site; I just wanted to know whether such sites were culturally significant—‘Yes’; ‘Okay, I’ll put that one on the map.’ They were quite happy with that. So I did not collect cultural information, as that goes into a whole new realm, especially with the strict human ethics aspect. As soon as you start dealing with human subjects, CSIRO is quite strict. So I made sure that in my proposal there was no stepping over the boundary of collecting cultural information, because we hear horror stories of people giving that information and then other people using it for their own benefit. Hopefully, the report will give them an opportunity to bang it on the table, like the mining companies and the irrigators, in order to say, ‘We need water at these sites because they are culturally significant; here is a science report that says so.’ But linking the two is going to be the next challenge.
I may collect information from my own country—from my elders, my Nan and the old people—but that is mine, and that is something that I need to be wary of. If I do projects in that part of the world, I need to be wary about the fact that I cannot say too much; in cultural terms, I am still only a boy. But I need to be careful about how to link that. I suppose that I do not want to get into the position of taking information and of people then expecting me to just save their sites, because they have given me their sites in giving me their cultural stories. So that is going to be a big challenge as well and it will be the same for every Aboriginal person collecting cultural information.
Question: Does Aboriginal lore have anything to teach Western science about managing the variability of water supplies through droughts and flooding rains and so on?
Brad Moggridge: Yes, I am sure it would, but noone has asked the Aboriginal people themselves; that is the problem. The information is localised and noone has sat down and mapped it. For example, there are the effects of climate change and how they have survived them; noone has asked the Aboriginal people how they have survived climate change. There are stories that go back to the Ice Age. There are stories of continental shelf sites. There are stories about people and sites down in river valleys that are quite deep now. There is a great opportunity for a Garnaut-style report on Aboriginal people and how they have survived climate change. It might solve that problem for the world.
Question: Nevertheless, there are serious antagonisms in the current system for you, aren’t there? More than two-thirds of Australian agriculture is exported, so it is supplying not just 20 million people but maybe more than that—not with all their food but with an element of it. A fair amount of that food is coming from the Murray-Darling Basin—a third of it or more. There are lots of billabongs and soaks that should be in that basin, but of course they will disappear when the licences take too much water out. So it seems to me that those definitions, particularly of cultural flow and cultural water, are very important areas to work hard on—and it is an opportune moment right now to do so—in relation to environmental flows.
Brad Moggridge: I totally agree. The time is now. They may not make it into this Basin Plan. But, if there is a strong push by the Aboriginal people and they lobby the right people, I think they can make it into the review. I suppose that could be the case with all other water planning areas across the continent. You might have all the MurrayDarling refugees heading north to the new food bowl. It may not happen, but I suppose there are opportunities to listen to Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people in the north are getting their act together and putting their foot down, especially around water planning. Some great things are happening in the north and I suppose they have had the luxury of learning from what has happened in the MurrayDarling. Look at the story of the people at the mouth of the Murray, the Ngarrindjeri, it is sad. So I suppose that it is learning from those mistakes and then, if we get Aboriginal people involved up-front, there is a good opportunity that things may be a bit different.
Question: In my brief time working in far south-western New South Wales, two of the things that I came across with the Barkindji—they are the people of the Darling River—was a sadness about lack of access to water as well as a loss of traditional knowledge through the generations, which you have raised. With the first one, are you aware of any agreements that have been made that allow people access back to traditional sites or to water that might be on agricultural or some other land? The other one is: can you see an opportunity for using cultural water or maybe even additional flows as an opportunity for teaching younger generations?
Brad Moggridge: Definitely, that is a huge opportunity. In the Murrumbidgee Water Sharing Plan, there is an allocation for cultural water; I think it is 2150 megalitres, so it is a fair amount. The Nari Nari people had on their land part of that allocation from the Murrumbidgee. There is that opportunity, but such opportunities are pretty rare in water planning scenarios. There is a lot happening in Northern Australia, where they are looking at Aboriginal land tenure. Up in the north, there is a huge amount of land owned by Aboriginal people, and I think the water agencies may have an obligation to give them an allocation in those water sharing plansbecause they have land tenure.
As for the bit about teaching: yes, definitely. That is a huge opportunity. I heard one old fellow say, ‘The stories have not gone; they are just resting in the landscape.’ So, by adding water to some parts of the landscape, there may well be a story.
But if the generations with that story have gone, that story may be lost forever. So, yes, I think there are educational opportunities for the next generation to learn some of those old ways. Also, work has been done in the Macquarie Marshes, especially around cultural values, so access was a big one for them. The Lower Bidgee on the Murrumbidgee is another area where they are looking at cultural values. The Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water has put some money into the mapping of those values and looking at getting people back to the wetland. I think that would be a good scenario. They are getting environmental water, so you have some real data there for environmental values. Let the Aboriginal people decide when they want their cultural water and see what happens.
Question: You are not alone in the fight, I can tell you that. I am in many courts in the land fighting against development and longwall mining underneath the catchment area of our waterways. All the creek beds are cracking. As soon as they take the coal away from the sandstone, there is no support and the earthbeds crack and water runs down into the coalmines. There is Sydney drinking water, and sooner or later the toxins out of that coalmine will make our children very sick—and will we have not only sick children but a whole race of people who are sick. I am trying to bring to the public’s attention that something must be done to stop this longwall mining underneath the catchment area. It is a very hard thing to do. I have other people on side and I have my own website. I also have the Macarthur Bushwalkers’ website, in that I am an advisor to that website. But sooner or later we are going to have to go back into court again against BHP or whatever. It is just like David and Goliath. But I am taking them back into court because I think everyone should have a say on this water. I find it very sad that the public does not know about what longwall mining is doing to future generations.
It is not only that. Going back to our Stone Age people, our women, my ancestors, used to have their children next to waterfalls so that their baby would have a better birth, because listening to water running is the greatest soother in the world and makes for better births for our women. A lot of people do not know this but, just as they do it in a bath tub, my ancestors used our waterfalls for giving birth and things like that.
The public has to realise that a disaster is waiting to happen with our waterways down around the Wollongong area and up around Atherton, right out to the produce area. It is going to be very bad.
Question: My company has been involved with water for 80 years and you are imparting a message that I think all of my colleagues need to hear. I have been involved with Indigenous communities for some 25 to 30 years, starting in Cape York. The key issue for me is—you have sold it to me, but I came here already sold—how are you going to sell this message of cultural flow to the broader audience? What strategy do you have, if you have one, to do that? I am not just talking about CSIRO; I am in the private sector. What can I do to promote this message across the private sector?
Brad Moggridge: Thanks for your support. I think one of the big things is the gap in data—I suppose, real data—and the science around making sure that Aboriginal people have a say in when that water gets there and then monitoring it. It is not going to happen in the next couple of weeks; it is a longterm thing—I am not going away and Aboriginal people are not going away. So I think we need the best available science to talk to it, and there are those reports. If it is to happen, I suppose that it is getting up at conferences and talking about that experience. But I think there is a message that cultural water is a new environmental water, I suppose it is that brown is the new black. There is an opportunity, and obviously CSIRO has to assist me with it. But then, with access, the funding issue is a big one.
Question: I hear you struggling with your response to that question, but it is a very important one because it is about imparting that message so that people accommodate it. I do not expect you to have a concise answer to that question now, but it is certainly something that we all need to work towards.
Brad Moggridge: Yes. I think there is a role for CSIRO and the universities and also the private sector to accommodate that—to step outside that box, the environmental box. You look down and are just looking for the effects of the ‘kangawallafox’ (made up) and whatever other species are living there and what effects that water has in being there for them. I think the cultural one is the next big challenge.
Question: I was just wondering about the artesian water in Central Australia. We had the wonderful experience of an Aboriginal guide showing us the Mound Springs out west of Maree and explaining to us the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years that water takes from falling as rain in Northern Australia to arriving in South Australia. But just beyond the hill is a big mine using thousands of megalitres a day. Has CSIRO or anyone had a look at the ability of that natural resource to support the industrial use that it is now being put to?
Brad Moggridge: I suppose their next big challenge is working out the sustainable yield of that water body. In some parts of that basin, you are talking of water millions of years old. A lot of Aboriginal people talk about ‘old water’; it is called ‘fossil water’, but they call it ‘old water’. They know that it does not just rain over there and in the next minute come out at the Mound Spring; it comes from a long way away. I have heard stories that water in the Great Artesian Basin relates to sites in New Guinea. I think that is the next big challenge: working out how much water is available for use. CSIRO has done a few studies on that in the Murray-Darling Basin, northern Australia and, I think, south-western Australia; and it is working on Tasmania. The Great Artesian Basin and Lake Eyre Basin are the next big ones, I think, because there are a lot of development pressures on those water resources.