Reconnecting River Country - connecting culture, science and river health

As we come up to the celebration of World Rivers Day on 26 September, it is important to note that as the lifeblood of our landscapes, rivers hold special significance to Aboriginal people in New South Wales.

Darlington Point, Cookoothama

The significance of our river systems to Aboriginal people is being recognised in the recently launched Reconnecting River Country Program. The program aims to get more water into the wetlands, creeks and branches of the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems by addressing constraints (physical, policy and operational) which impede flows.

Go with the flow for healthy Country

The program is led by the Department of Planning Industry and Environment Water with project partners the Environment Energy and Science Group of the Department of Planning Industry and Environment and Local Land Services.

Understanding the benefits and impacts of relaxing constraints in the river system to Aboriginal people's values is a key part of the program. For example, more water into adjacent billabongs supports healthier Country and more opportunities for cultural activities. However, changed flow regimes can also alter erosion rates and may impact on Aboriginal heritage assets and other important values.

Our Cultural Science team is contributing to the program by assisting Aboriginal communities develop their own methodologies for describing and communicating their interests in flow constraint relaxation, so these can be effectively represented in a business case to the Australian Government. Deciding what data to collect and how to represent it in a way that keeps First Nations knowledge and aspirations protected and at the centre of the process presents a challenge for this program.

Rejuvenation of culture and waterways

Addressing that challenge is an example of how Cultural Science team finds ways to help and problem solve to better enable outcomes for Aboriginal people and their objectives for landscape and waterways management, and to support cultural rejuvenation and self-determination as part of that process.

The team sits within the Science, Economics and Insights Division and brings expertise in research, planning, heritage, engagement, monitoring and mapping through the application of place-based methodologies and two-eyed seeing an approach which recognises Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing with mainstream knowledge and ways of knowing for the benefit of all. By the next World Rivers Day, we look forward to sharing how the program has progressed and the outcomes for Aboriginal people that are starting to be realised.