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.

Photo taken on the Ngamaay (Namoi River) 19 September 2023 by Dharriwaa Elders Group’s Senior River Ranger Ernest Sands at location -30.01936 148.12243. It was included in a report sent to environmental water managers, NSW DPI Fisheries and others in DEG’s science network. Blooming algae can clearly be seen. The rivers at Walgett have consistently been a soupy green colour since the 2022 floodwaters receded.

DEG made a submission 13/10/23 to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Restoring our Rivers) 2023.

Key points include:

  • DEG supports purchase of reliable water in the Northern Basin. DEG supports end of system flow guarantees for the tributaries of the Baawan-Baaka. As much as possible of the 450 gigalitres should be purchased in the Northern Basin, where it will bring the greatest environmental, cultural and social benefits.
  • Every purchase of bottled water in Walgett is a cost to the community imposed by the cotton industry of the Northern Basin. The loss of river foods and the consequent impacts on our community’s nutrition is a cost to the community imposed by the cotton industry of the Northern Basin. The loss of river pastimes and the consequent impacts on our community’s mental health and wellbeing is a cost to the community imposed by the cotton industry of the Northern Basin.The effects of over-extraction on our community must become a part of the public discussion, to balance the claims by the irrigation industry.
  • DEG supports and applauds increases in the responsibilities of the power of the Inspector-General of Water Compliance.