Walgett’s Dharriwaa Elders Group, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Environmental Defenders Office collaborated to make a joint submission responding to a call by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment for input to a report on “Too Dirty, Too Little, Too Much: The Global Water Crisis and Human Rights”.

The health of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) is in decline due to the ongoing over-extraction of water and climate change, with some catchments and wetlands facing ecosystem collapse. This decline has had a particular impact on Aboriginal communities who have experienced multiple waves of water dispossession since colonisation.  Our joint submission focuses on two case studies:

  1. Water scarcity and salinity in Walgett, NSW – The Dharriwaa Elders Group and Walgett Aboriginal community are concerned about the health of the Baawan (Barwon) and Ngamaay (Namoi) Rivers (from which the town’s water supply is sourced), and the impact of declining flows on an important food source, cultural uses and sites. They are also greatly concerned about the reliability and quality of drinking water for the community; and
  2. Water infrastructure projects destroying Aboriginal cultural heritage in the southern MDB – Regulators and associated structures have been installed by governments on several floodplains in the southern MDB as a means of delivering water directly onto these sites, thereby obviating the need for overbank flows. At least one of these regulators has destroyed Aboriginal cultural heritage, including numerous burial sites. This caused significant distress for the Traditional Owners.

The case studies in our joint submission represent two manifestations of Aboriginal water dispossession in the MDB and likely associated infringements of human and Indigenous rights. They also highlight the extent to which Aboriginal rights, values and interests are marginalised under legal instruments governing the management and sharing of water in the MDB, and the failure by the Australian Government, corporate irrigators and investors in water markets to take any meaningful action to reverse this injustice. 

You can read our full submission below.