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.

Dane and Bow Simpson in the Amazing Race for Walgett's drinking water
Dane and Bow Simpson in the Amazing Race for Walgett's drinking water

Just reminding everyone particularly Australian Senators that voluntary buybacks from irrigators should be applied

where greatest environment, social & enviromental benefits will be achieved. The Northern Murray Darling Basin rivers are dying. 

DEG's Walgett River ranger project regularly reports algae blooms and low river levels at Walgett. This means poor water quality, no river foods, no drinking water. More flows are needed. 

Dying rivers at Walgett are an existential threat for Dharriwaa Elders Group. 

Actions that will deliver ACTUAL water to PROTECT flows from the tributories of the Baawan / Baaka must be supported. TO END OF SYSTEM. NSW Water Sharing Plans do not require end of system flows.

Water for the Environment Special Account (WESA) funds must enhance enviromental outcomes for the Basin & should go to communities like Walgett who suffer from irrigation - NOT GO TO IRRIGATORS!

Senators please ensure that the Restoring our Rivers Bill that is before you at the moment and that you will be examining in a Senate Inquiry this week (from 30/10/23) squeezes as much as possible for where the environmental needs are greatest. With a positive Labor Government with the Australian Greens, this might be the last chance for the rivers to benefit from the current Murray Darling Basin Plan. 

Delivering water to the Coorong & mouth of Murray should not be the main KPI being used for the health of the Basin - so AMENDMENTS ARE REQUIRED. The focus on the Southern Basin needs to be changed, as it suggests that Parliament is abandoning the Baawan Baaka to ecological collapse, abandoning Northern Rivers to cotton who "want it all". DEG won't believe this. If more enviromental water is applied in the Northern Basin & flows are protected by stronger compliance powers given to the Inspector General for Water Compliance the whole Murray Darling Basin should benefit.

Our picture shows Bow Simpson lugging water for DEG Elders Centre. Remember every bottle of water we have to buy is a cost imposed by cotton industry & its govt. enablers because the Northern rivers can no longer supply our drinking water. He & son Dane Simpson highlighted the crisis on the Amazing Race Celebrity Edition recently.

DEG asks Senators to remember this & don't be fooled by those arguing that our community will be injured by water buybacks! The opposite!! Besides - Walgett ACCOs employ far more in Walgett than cotton ever did. What do they ever do for Walgett?

DEG appeals for Green and Labor Senators to fight for the rivers & communities and amend the Restoring our Rivers Bill 2023 accordingly. Our brief submission.