Aboriginal people in Walgett describe the Ngamaay (Namoi) and Baawan (Barwon) rivers as the lifeblood of their community, waterways which generations have cared for and lived on for thousands of years. However, in recent years the rivers have been largely dry with a massive negative impact on community health and wellbeing.

"Well the river is our life: it's like anywhere in the world, if you don't have water you don't have life. The river when I was growing up was a good thing for everybody. Not to say we didn't take things for granted but we respected the waters. It was our life through fishing, drinking, cooking but today there's nothing there. It's really sad. I think to me it's greed by people upstream that don't allow the water to come down" (Community member, quoted in Yuwaya Ngarra-li Community Data Gathering Report, 2019).

The drying up of local rivers is attributed by the Dharriwaa Elders Group to drought and poor management of rivers and water infrastructure by government, which has prioritised the interests of farmers and irrigators over Aboriginal people. The lack of respect and understanding for Aboriginal knowledge of river systems and the perspectives or interests of Aboriginal people is an ongoing legacy of decades of institutional racism and has had disproportionately negative impacts on Aboriginal people in Walgett in a number of ways.

The DEG has long held concerns for the health of surface and ground waters of Walgett. Over its 23 years of operation, DEG has become increasingly aware of the vulnerability of Walgett’s water infrastructure and capacity, the lack of planning for climate change, and the low priority given to Walgett community's water security. Our Caring for Country program works for a vision for Walgett where wellbeing of people and Country is vital, and Walgett children have a better, brighter future. We will link Aboriginal culture and science with western science to renew the health of the river systems and groundwaters. We are developing a collection of policies and requirements for management of waters for the social, economic and cultural development of our community.

As a result of our work we will own and manage water for socio-economic development, the environment and Aboriginal cultural practices and wellbeing.

struggling carp in the Barwon River 2 February 2023
struggling carp in the Barwon River 2 February 2023

DEG's River Rangers are out on the rivers and other waterways in DEG's area of interest daily. They are the organisation's eyes and ears, and notice the appalling condition of the rivers. In February 2023 the team documented dead dhagaay - yellowbelly

(Macquaria ambigua) floating down the Baawan River from somewhere upstream of Walgett, while at Walgett the oxygen levels were so low the carp were going crazy gasping for air. We were advised that the oxygen monitor at Walgett on the Barwon River at Dangar Bridge had been out of order for months. DEG notified colleagues in Water NSW, NSW Fisheries, OzFish, Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and independent scientists working for UNSW and CSU. In August 2023 the River Rangers documented dead biirrnga - bony bream (Nematalosa erebi) again in the Baawan.

DEG no longer accepts dying rivers and ecosystems and other impacts of industrial agriculture as more symptoms of invasion and dispossession that cannot be changed. Instead, DEG documents and reports regularly the condition of the rivers to the government agencies who are tasked with managing them. DEG also uses local observations to let the wider Australia know about the ecocide happening in the Northern Murray Darling Basin because we know that Australia has signed international conventions and has laws that if complied with, would not allow it.

DEG is using western science and law to give irrefutable evidence to decisionmakers of the alternative path to wellbeing for the public good that they could be taking. Conservative power brokers attack DEG and the experts it consult - saying it is cruel to be giving hope to the Walgett Aboriginal community - when instead we should accept the situation and try to benefit financially from water trading and cotton game. This is the battle DEG has today - when governments and their out of control beaurocrats try to distract with meaningless consultations re Aboriginal Water while the rivers and the life that depends on them are dying.