Food and water security are major areas of concern for the Walgett community, and the Dharriwaa Elders Group and the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) have been working to improve access to fresh food and safe drinking water in Walgett for many years. In 2018, DEG requested UNSW’s assistance with the testing of Walgett drinking water, after community concerns about its quality since the local Shire Council switched the town water source from the river to bore water due to the drought. Tests by Assoc. Professor Martin Andersen of the UNSW Global Water Institute confirmed that the Walgett drinking water was high in sodium. Professor Jacqui Webster from the George Institute for Global Health advised that this is of particular concern for people living with chronic disease. Subsequent advocacy by the Dharriwaa Elders Group saw significant media coverage on this issue, leading to the NSW Government committing to installing reverse osmosis systems to remove salt from Walgett as well as Bourke’s drinking water. The problems with drinking water quality were exacerbated when critical infrastructure failed, and people in Walgett were left without water to drink or operate air conditioning in the middle of summer. In 2019, Yuwaya Ngarra-li held a Food Forum at Walgett high school. The aims of the Food Forum were to:

  • Provide data and research about what is known about food issues relevant to Aboriginal people in Walgett and impacts on long-term health and wellbeing
  • Gather community members and critical services, organisations, and other stakeholders together to discuss food issues in Walgett
  • Facilitate a public forum that is action oriented and focused on positive strategies and evidence-based solutions Staff from local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, council staff, teachers, gardeners, food retailers and other concerned local residents, including Elders from the DEG, raised issues to do with food supply, drinking water, growing food locally and the effect of food choices on physical and mental health.

A report of the Food Forum can be found here, which includes the many suggestions raised throughout the forum of possible strategies and solutions. Since the Food Forum, Yuwaya Ngarra-li has been focused on building its ‘Food and Water for Life Program’, which aims to address food and water insecurity issues, poor drinking water, costly and poor quality food available in Walgett, and the associated health and wellbeing issues in Walgett.

The urgency of this work was highlighted after Walgett’s only supermarket burnt down and local food shortages during COVID. Since 2021, the Food and Water for Life Program has been boosted by a five year NHMRC grant (2021-2025) Food and Water for Life: co-creation and evaluation of sustainable innovations to strengthen food and water security with collaborators from UNSW and the George Institute for Global Health. In collaboration with WAMS, we seek to enable community-led sustainable food and water initiatives that will be run by and employ Aboriginal people, and ensure healthy drinking water and fresh nutritious food produced locally for years to come.

ABC' Carly Williams producing the story re Walgett's drinking water

Yuwaya Ngarra-li is continuing work to ensure safe drinking water for the Walgett community. While a reverse osmosis facility was installed in Walgett in May 2020,

it was closed in September 2020 and there are ongoing concerns about the high sodium levels in Walgett’s drinking water. A Briefing Paper on Walgett’s drinking water management explains the issue. WAMS and DEG with Yuwaya Ngarrali partners Professor Jacqui Webster of The George Institute for Global Health UNSW and Professor Greg Leslie from the Global Water Institute UNSW trained up a research team and undertook a groundbreaking survey of food and water (in)security in Walgett in March 2022.
The results are shocking and the survey's Key Findings can be found here. The full report will be published in prestigious international public health journals later in 2023. Meanwhile DEG is installing a bespoke Reverse Osmosis chilled drinking water system in its main street premises to trial greater accessibility of high quality drinking water.

WAMS and DEG made a statement on 13 April 2023 when ABC 7.30 Indigenous reporter Carly Williams exclusively broke the story nationally - "The Australian town where water insecurity is felt more than some communities in Bangladesh". Anna Patty of the Sydney Morning Herald also ran the story "The town where Coca-Cola runs more freely than drinking water".