Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap
Water is a shared and precious resource and important to many people and communities.
Traditional Owners have rarely been consulted about how water is managed and used since colonisation. We are now working in partnership with Victoria’s Traditional Owners to involve them in decisions around water management.
Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap provides an important framework to create and maintain a careful and considered balance between Traditional Owner self-determination in water access and management, and the rights and entitlements of a range of stakeholders.
Water is Life develops a pathway to genuine, meaningful outcomes for Traditional Owners. It represents actual and symbolic respect for the importance of Aboriginal connections to Country. Caring for Country and water can deliver thriving cultural economies and benefits for Traditional Owners, existing entitlement holders, and all Victorians.
Read Water is Life
Due to its large size, Water is Life has been uploaded in two parts: Section A (Victorian Government policy), and Section B (Traditional Owner Nation Statements).
You can read Water is Life and learn about what it means for different community members and groups below.
- Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap, Section A (PDF, 16.9 MB)
- Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap, Section B (PDF, 17.4 MB)
- Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap, Full Text (DOCX, 3.2 MB)
- Water is Life: Summary (PDF, 5.5 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 71.9 KB)
Read about what Water is Life means for you
- Fact sheet for community (PDF, 3.0 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 69.2 KB)
- Fact sheet for Traditional Owners (PDF, 3.0 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 70.2 KB)
- Fact sheet for irrigators and landholders (PDF, 3.0 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 69.3 KB)
- Fact sheet for environmental groups (PDF, 3.0 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 66.6 KB)
Water, Country and Community Program (2020-2024)
Phase 2 of the Aboriginal Water Program, the Water, Country and Community Program, is a continuation of our commitment to Traditional Owner water-related priorities. Building on learnings from Phase 1, the Water, Country and Community Program is designed to better include Aboriginal people in water management and to reconnect communities to water for cultural, economic, customary, and spiritual purposes.
$18 million has been invested to fund Aboriginal Water Officers, the Aboriginal Water Officer Network, and other self-determined projects, research and resources. The Water, Country and Community Program is being delivered through two stages over a four-year period.
Aboriginal Water Program Phase 1 (2016-2020)
The Aboriginal Water Program was established to deliver on Water for Victoria's commitments to Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. This includes progressing actions on recognising and managing for Aboriginal values (Actions 6.1 - 6.4), Aboriginal inclusion in the water sector (Action 10.8), and Aboriginal economic development (Action 10.9).
Phase 1 of the Aboriginal Water Program delivered on its commitments through two key initiatives.
Aboriginal values and uses
The Aboriginal Values and Uses for Water Program invested in projects led by Traditional Owners to better define and document Aboriginal values, uses, and aspirations of Victoria’s waterways and catchments. Through this initiative, $4.7 million was directed towards cultural mapping, seasonal watering plans, water management plans, and research of cultural and environmental flows for the sustainable management of water.
Access to water for economic development
The Aboriginal Access to Water for Economic Development Program directed $5 million towards exploring and developing opportunities for Aboriginal enterprises through access to water. The program was designed with Traditional Owners and delivered alongside project partners in three stages.
- Stage One: Cultural Water for Cultural Economies. Over 40 meetings were facilitated with representatives from 20 Traditional Owner groups, resulting in the delivery of the Cultural Water for Cultural Economies report. The report identified specific law and policy pathways to increase water access for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians.
- Stage Two: Traditional Owner-led Pilot Projects. Eleven pilot projects were funded which explored water-related enterprises for economic development opportunities. These projects tested the feasibility of aquaculture, bush foods, native plants, water-based education, and cultural tourism across Victoria.
- Stage Three: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap. Based on and informed by the learnings and outcomes of stages one and two, this stage delivered on Water for Victoria's policy commitments by facilitating the development of a Traditional Owner-led Aboriginal water policy. This developed into what is now known as Water is Life: Traditional Owner Access to Water Roadmap.
You can read about some of the Aboriginal Water Program Phase 1 projects and outcomes along with other case studies below.
Case studies: Past projects
Gunditjmirring and Barengi Gadjin
Gunditjmirring and Barengi Gadjin Towards Cultural Flows project – Glenelg River
Barapa Barapa delivered a series of Aboriginal Waterways Assessments in November 2016. During this process 12 Traditional Owners undertook 12 assessments around Gunbower Forest, Hird Swamp, Lake Elizabeth and Lake Leaghur,
The Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) provided support for these assessments. Wetland ecologist, Damien Cook and archaeologist Colin Pardoe also participated in the project as experts in their respective fields.
Barapa Barapa delivered a series of Aboriginal Waterway Assessments in November 2016. During this process 12 Traditional Owners undertook 12 assessments around Gunbower Forest, Hird Swamp, Lake Elizabeth and Lake Leaghur, Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) provided support for these assessments. Wetland ecologist Damien Cook and archaeologist Colin Pardoe also participated in the project as experts in their respective fields.
Dja Dja Wurrung is collaborating with the North Central Catchment Management Authority to increase the skills of Traditional Owners in natural resource management. The aims of this project are to develop pathways for young Aboriginal people to pursue careers in environmental management, to promote culture, and to improve the capacity of Dja Dja Wurrung to protect areas of significance.
Tati Tati and Wadi Wadi undertook an Aboriginal Waterways Assessment in July 2017 along the Murray River between Robinvale and Swan Hill. Thirteen Traditional Owners visited 12 sites between Robinvale and Nyah-Vinifera Regional Park. Traditional Owners were accompanied by staff from Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
In December 2014, a group of 10 Traditional Owners worked with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to identify important sites and assess the cultural health of areas from Wangaratta to Falls Creek. This was one of the first projects that used the Aboriginal Waterways Assessment tool.
This project will increase the ability of Dhudhuroa and Waywurru Traditional Owners to negotiate for their water needs on country. Dhudhuroa Elder, Gary Murray, talks about the importance of water for important cultural sites:
“The watering of our cultural places brings, for example, a redgum to life from a seed to a tree with animals and birds. It brings Djinabis (Dhudhuroa possum skin cloaks) to keep warm, shelter for the clans from the elements, water canoes, weapons and carrying tools, and materials for burial rituals.”
The Wurundjeri cultural values project is a collaboration between the Wurundjeri Council, Melbourne Water and the Victorian Environmental Water Holder (VEWH).
Through this project, water-dependent cultural values along the Yarra River system are to be documented together with other elements relevant to this specific waterway including additional water requirements and objectives. The focus of this project is to enhance the ability of environmental water managers to achieve Aboriginal environmental outcomes for Wurundjeri in the Yarra River system in both the short-term and longer term.
A key step forward for this project was a Wurundjeri-hosted Aboriginal water knowledge sharing day held on 25 May 2017. This event provided the opportunity for Wurundjeri elders to hear directly from other Traditional Owner nations who have actively worked on Aboriginal water projects.
This project has coincided with many activities along the Yarra and its tributaries that have come about since the Yarra River Projection (Wilip-gin Birrarung murron) Bill 2017 was passed in Victorian Parliament in September 2017.
Further information on the project can be found by contacting VEWH or Melbourne Water.
Visiting eel traps on the Wurundjeri-hosted Aboriginal water knowledge-sharing day. May 2017.
The Aboriginal Water Program is committed to celebrating the achievements of the program and our Traditional Owner partners. You can learn about some of the program's highlights, progress and achievements below.
- Aboriginal Water Program Update Oct 2020 - Dec 2021 (PDF, 2.3 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 10.4 MB)
- Aboriginal Water Program Progress Snapshot Sept 2020 (PDF, 1.4 MB). Accessible version (DOCX, 7.9 MB)
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about the Aboriginal Water Program, please contact Aboriginal.WaterProgram@delwp.vic.gov.au.
Page last updated: 26/01/23