An overiew of the Dharriwaa Elders Group Food and Water 4 Life project that is being undertaken with Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service and UNSW through our Yuwaya Ngarrali partnership
and other stakeholders:
Goal: Improve community access and sustainable management of water and country
KPIs by end of 2022:
• 100% of Walgett population have access to safe drinking water
• 100% of households of people with chronic diseases & with children have access to regular supply of locally grown fruit and vegetables
Background and context
Food and water security are key areas of concern for the Walgett community, and DEG and WAMS have been working to improve access to fresh food and safe drinking water in Walgett for many years.
The core problems we have identified in this area are:
1. Lack of appropriate infrastructure or commitment to ensure safe drinking water supply in Walgett
2. Lack of access to affordable fresh food to enable healthy choices by Aboriginal people in Walgett
In 2018, Yuwaya Ngarrali (YN) held a Food Forum so that people in Walgett could come together and talk about their concerns and set priorities for change. Staff from local ACCOs, 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.
The Food Forum has helped the DEG identify what action it can take to give people better access to fresh food and palatable drinking water.
The Food and Water for Life Working Group
The Food and Water for Life Working Group was an initiative that came out of the Food Forum. It started meeting February of 2020 and its purpose is to bring together the people and groups in Walgett who can help influence and make decisions around food and water. It is made up of representatives from the DEG, WAMS, the Walgett Local Aboriginal Land Council, Walgett Shire Council, Walgett Community College, TAFE NSW, NSW Health and Mission Australia.. Local business people, particularly food retailers and other food providers are welcomed to the working group, and the some of the work that has been done has been directly supported by the management team of the Walgett IGA. Elders from the DEG and members of the Garden Network also attend. UNSW Collaborators who support the working group include Professor Jackie Webster from the George Institute for Global Health and members of her staff, and Professor Greg Leslie from the Global Water Institute.
The group aims to meet once a month.
NHMRC research project
In December of 2020, members of the Food and Water for Life Working Group were successful in seeking a grant to help fund the work required.
The NHMRC project is called :Food and Water for Life: co-creation and evaluation of sustainable innovations to strengthen food and water security.
Specific objectives are to:
1) Review comparable situations of food and water insecurity and existing tools to address these issues that the community can draw on to strengthen its response.
2) Develop a framework and tools in partnership with the community to strengthen and evaluate the process and impact of the community-led response (Food and Water for Life Project).
3) Establish an iterative adaptive process to inform, monitor and evaluate the program’s impact on food and water security and nutrition, and document experiences and lessons learnt with view to translating to other communities in Australia and globally.
In the Food and Water for Life program, we focus on improving the access to and quality of Walgett’s drinking water as a priority, and look at ways to help people in Walgett make water their main drink.
Currently there are two sources of drinking water for Walgett. The first is Bore Water, where water underground in the Great Artesian Basin, or ‘GAB’ is brought up through bores sunk around the town. The other source of water for Walgett is river water. Two things impact on the availability of river water- mismanagement causing over-extraction upstream and turbidity, which occurs when the water has been stirred up a lot by the weather and has too much mud, silt or other material in it to safely drink. Blue green algae blooms and industrial pollution may also contribute to concerns for river drinking water safety. The Council supported by NSW DPIE Water and NSW Health – Public Health determine when river water or bore water is sourced (or sometimes a mix of both) by the town's drinking water infrastructure.
In 2018, DEG, WAMS and others with YN’s support raised concerns after the town’s drinking water began to be sourced from bore water after the river dried up. Bore water had a very poor taste and smell. Those who could afford to were buying bottled water. DEG worked with UNSW collaborators to test the water, and discovered it was very high in sodium (a salt). This raised particular concerns for people with a chronic health condition.
In late 2018, DEG worked with ABC journalist Rachel Carbonell on this article:
Other articles followed in the next couple of months that built on DEG’s advocacy, focused on the impact of the drought and the problems with Walgett’s water supply which centred community voices:
Reverse osmosis (RO) is also known as desalination. It is a way of treating water that removes salt. It is sometimes used to create drinking water from sea water. A reverse osmosis unit can be small enough to be part of an individual drinking water fountain, or large enough to purify the water supply for a whole town.
Pressure from the DEG and WAMS about drinking water in Walgett saw the NSW Government commit to providing a reverse osmosis system in Walgett. Although funds were designated and a contractor engaged, the system installed in 2020 was not fit for purpose because it could not produce enough drinking water for Walgett and the waste water produced was not adequately accommodated. Walgett still does not have a functioning RO system.
In order to ensure safe drinking water is available to everyone in Walgett, the DEG has been working with local suppliers and Walgett Shire Council to design and implement drinking water fountains that have RO (reverse osmosis) units inside each unit. This means that the units will filter the town water and make it safer and healthier to drink. It won’t taste salty and will mean people can get water when they are out without having to buy it.
The purpose of the drinking water fountains is not only to make sure that people have drinking water when they are out and about, but also to help support people when they choose to make water their main drink. In terms of keeping people in Walgett healthy, promoting the idea of drinking water and not other drinks is very important. Making water widely available is a good first step but there is lots of work around behaviour change- supporting people to make water their first choice. In the past this work has been supported by our collaborators at the George Institute.
The first units will be installed on DEG and WAMS premises in 2021, and there is potential for a number of other units across town to also be installed in the near future.
It can be difficult to access fresh healthy food in Walgett. There are limited retail options and up until recently, local food gardens were badly drought affected.
The impact of Covid 19 on the supply network was particularly felt in Walgett and towns like it. Unlike metro or large regional areas, small towns were low on the priority list for national retailers and the local IGA experienced an unstable period where orders were simply not fulfilled. Many people in Walgett rely on weekly visits from a mobile fruit and vegie truck. This service comes from Queensland and is unable to visit when borders are shut.
WAMS offer programs to their clients which support lifestyle change for better health. This includes helping people be more active and make healthier food choices. The DEG and the Food and Water for Life Working Group have a number of projects in place to support WAMS and the broader community to make healthy food choices easy.
The WAMS Community Garden
• The WAMS Garden was identified at the 2018 Food Forum as being an area where WAMS were seeking support. Once a thriving food garden supplying regular veggie boxes to WAMS clients, it had been completely destroyed by severe water restrictions when the rivers were dry.
• The Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership was able to collaborate with Professor Greg Leslie at the Global Water Institute to begin a project of creating a low water use garden.
• A team of students working through the UNSW Impact Engineering program began trialling ideas to help bring the garden back to life. They began work in June of 2019, building wicking beds using locally available materials, and eventually finding a solution called a ‘Biofilta Food Pod’.
• There are currently forty pods in the WAMS garden and they are regularly harvested to provide foods for WAMS clients.
• The Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership, the DEG and WAMS continue to seek out grants and other funding to purchase more pods and develop the garden further.
• We are currently waiting for the outcome of the NSW Stronger Country Community Fund Grant in which we have asked for funding for more food pods, shade structures and a large shade sail, which have been requested by WAMS. This will be decided in September of 2021.
• WAMS are also working hard to build the Community Garden facilities with a number of upgrades and enhancements in current works.
A thriving garden will create:
1. Fresh food for clients of WAMS and others in community
2. A space for learning about food, gardening, cooking and healthy eating.
3. Employment for local people, including disability employment, in gardening, beekeeping and candlemaking.
4. Programs for young people who have been in contact with the justice system.
5. A recreation space for older people and young families
6. A point of pride and interest for people in Walgett.
7. A food security resource in future emergencies
The Garden Network
The Garden Network launched in December of 2020 and is currently an informal and supportive arrangement between the School and WAMS gardens. With more support and the more regular communication, possibly via meetings, the garden network will be able to :
• Share resources, support and expertise
• Plan crops to increase the variety of fresh food available in Walgett
YN bought 8 additional Biofilta garden beds for Kim Sullivan’s AOD clients. These are still to be moved into place and established, and a new location in Wee Waa St is currently being considered. The gardeners who tend these gardens will belong to the garden network.
Potential Education Programs
YN has been considering different education programs that could be run as part of the Food and Water for Life Program.
The Healthy Supermarket Program
The manager of Walgett IGA, Paresh Patel, is a member of the Food and Water for Life Working Group and is supportive of initiatives to increase community health. With WAMS we have planned healthy food choices initiatives which will be rolled out in late 2021.
Community Food and Water Security Planning
We are conducting a systematic review of Aboriginal community-controlled initiatives for food security around the world so we don't have to re-invent the wheel. We are also going to be documenting our community's responses to Walgett's food and water security emergencies, and the regulatory framework for emergency responses, so that we can plan for more effective emergency responses for Walgett's food and water security in the future.