Wednesday, 1 August 2018

About water and belonging

Clarence River, New South Wales Far North Coast. Image at

Virginia Marshall, February 2017, Overturning Aqua Nullius: securing Aboriginal water rights, excerpt:

Water landscapes hold meaning and purpose under Aboriginal laws. After thousands of years, the spiritual relationship of being part of Country remains integral, and despite the significant political and social change heaved upon the lives of Aboriginal communities the sacredness of water shapes the identity and values of Aboriginal peoples.

The creation story that opens this chapter recognises the relationship of Nyikina peoples to the river system, the land and the liyan (spirit) in its peoples and all things on Nyikina Country. Nyikina peoples have a name for the river, mardoowarra (the Fitzroy River), and yimardoowarra means Nyikina peoples ‘belong’ to the lower part of the mardoowarra. Underground water, which travels through neighbouring Aboriginal land, creates a joint responsibility.

Aboriginal water management, as discussed in a Northern Territory study of water values and interests in the Katherine Region, represents a complex web of relationships:

Every aspect of water as a phenomena and physical resource as well as the hydro morphological features it creates is represented and expressed in the languages of local Aboriginal cultures: mist, clouds, rain, hail, seasonal patterns of precipitation, floods and floodwater, river flows, rivers, creeks, waterholes, billabongs, springs, soaks, groundwater and aquifers, and the oceans (saltwater).

The inherent relationships of Aboriginal peoples with land and water are regulated by traditional knowledge. For generations Aboriginal peoples have developed significant water knowledge for resource use. Aboriginal water knowledge, traditional sharing practices, climate and seasonal weather knowledge underpin water use knowledge. Aboriginal customary water use cannot be decoupled from the relationship with the environment and water resources because Aboriginal water concepts are central to community and kinship relationships. Unlike Western legal concepts, water cannot be separated from the land because Aboriginal creation stories have laid the foundations for Aboriginal water values.

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