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.

Healthy Waters Forum Walgett February 2023
Healthy Waters Forum Walgett February 2023

Yuwaya Ngarrali Caring for Country program convened a meeting of all DEG's collaborators in its caring for Country - water work so that each of the collaborators could meet the others and learn of their combined work

and purpose of Dharriwaa Elders Group. This occurred in February 2023, and one of the outcomes was a refinement of the work plan for the Walgett River Ranger team. In particular a project to conserve Aboriginal fishtraps in the Narran River, and remove a weir to improve river flows, was progressed. Other projects discussed included Aboriginal Place nominations, a proposal to extend the Ramsar listing of Dharriwaa, our work with Martin Andersen to better understand the interactions between groundwaters and surface waters in DEG's area of interest. We also met over video with Minister Plibersek's office and discussed her approval of the Narrabri Gas Project, whether the River Ranger project would have its one year funding continued, and the unlawful practice of floodplain harvesting.