Last updated December 12, 2018 at 10:21 am
“This is our right to water.” Indigenous science is vital for water.
Water policy is highly political in Australia, so credible science is essential to inform policymakers as they make decisions. But who better to also consult than those who have been on this land for 60,000 years.
Indigenous Australians represent one of the oldest surviving civilisations on Earth, with knowledge and understanding passed on from generation to generation.
Indigenous scientists like Brad Moggridge, from the Kamilaroi Nation in north-western NSW, are combining traditional knowledge with Western science, and it has benefits for everyone.
Brad is a Kamilaroi Water Expert, PhD Candidate at the University of Canberra, and an Indigenous Liaison Officer (Threatened Species Recovery Hub) for Charles Darwin University. He’s using his qualifications in hydrogeology and environmental science to benefit the Australian landscape.
Water holds great cultural significance across many Aboriginal nations. It is bound to the land and the sky, together all representing Country, as one entity.
There are many forms of water. For the Kamilaroi people, they have springs, rivers with both groundwater and surface water interacting together.
“It’s a key part of who we are and a lot of our belief systems talk about healthy water, healthy people, healthy country, healthy culture, it’s all there,” says Brad.
“Groundwater is highly significant for women, so I need to be careful as well, how and when I talk about especially groundwater. So if I say the wrong thing I could get a slap up the head from the Aunty so I need to be really careful!” laughs off Brad.
Rights to water
“At the moment we don’t have a say in water, or when and where it flows and we don’t really have a right to water unless we buy it. And I suppose my fight is to try and equal up, even up the playing field and back some of our knowledge like our traditional knowledge with some science,” says Brad.
He explains that traditional knowledge can influence when “to request water and have a right to water, to say we want water at this time, we want water at this volume, we want water at this speed.” And it’s this knowledge that isn’t being effectively brought into water management planning.
“Unfortunately, Aboriginal people didn’t have that credible evidence, they didn’t have the best available science that backed their knowledge or validated their knowledge. And my journey is to try and give that knowledge some validation but also provide an opportunity for Aboriginal people to bang on the table and say this is our right to water.”
Indigenous voices in policymaking
Brad has previously worked with the NSW state government and CSIRO, as well as various national and state committees and advisory bodies, working with policymakers.
“I believe it’s my calling to influence or make an impact through science,” says Brad.
He acknowledges that as an Aboriginal person he can only speak for his mob, his community. It doesn’t mean that he talks for all Aboriginal Australians. However, how he’s using traditional knowledge to bridge the gap between his science and policy is all up for grabs.
“If I can produce a template for other Aboriginal communities to take on and say ‘right, this is a way to build our credible evidence and build our science and validate our knowledge’ then I think my work is done. If I don’t then I’ve got to keep fighting.”
No say in Murray-Darling Basin
One of the nation’s most talked about environmental issues after the Great Barrier Reef is the Murray-Darling Basin. It covers over 1 million square kilometres of south-eastern Australia. It’s an understatement to say that the Basin is important not only to the ecosystem, but to the people and agricultural industries that depend on it.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority is the government agency in charge of managing the Basin.
“Water’s very political and because it’s now a commodity, it’s tradeable and I suppose when there’s a dollar value on it, on water, on the water resources, that’s going to be a tough fight,” explains Brad.
Despite recent media attention and coverage which lead to reviews, investigations, reports and audits, for all the prompting for Government to address the Murray-Darling regulation, Brad says there is still poor engagement with Aboriginal peoples in addressing the need for sustainable water management.
Past government water initiatives that Brad has been part of have ceased operating, which means the Aboriginal voice is not being heard at all levels.
He is determined to use this knowledge. Water is a complex language to negotiate.
“I understand that language, I know what they’re talking about, I can compete with the best of them and I suppose it’s my voice at that table that gives them the opportunity to have a voice.”
“I believe it [traditional science] can work with Western science and if Western science helps validate our knowledge, which I’m trying to do, I think we’ll have a better country that’s looked after.”
The video footage this interview was based on was gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC).