The Victorian Government is supporting Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to take an active role in the management of the state’s water resources.
By building knowledge and understanding about the values, uses and economic potential of water for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians, we can recognise and support these values in how we plan, manage and deliver water.
The Water for Country Project Control Group is guiding investment in projects that use Aboriginal traditional ecological knowledge and Aboriginal assessments of waterways, and that employ Aboriginal Water Officers to work with water managers in Victoria’s catchments.
Improving access for Aboriginal people to water for economic development is another new and emerging area being explored and developed.
Co-designing the approach to recognising Traditional Owner and Aboriginal Values of water
For the first time in almost 200 years, Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians are being given an active and meaningful role in planning and management of the state’s water. The Aboriginal Water Program is being rolled out across Victoria from the grass roots. Together we’ve made significant steps forward, but we know we still have a long way to go.
The program emphasises enabling Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to play an active and influential part in decisions that affect their lives. This means people are not just listened to, but also heard – and involved in shaping outcomes. Because respect for local knowledge and experience is paramount, the result is interventions that reflect local realities, often leading to better supported and longer lasting social change.
The program recognises that Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians need support and resources to partner with the water sector. Capacity is being built through funding of Aboriginal Water Officers and undertaking Aboriginal Waterway Assessments.
Access to water has the potential to generate new economic opportunities for Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians. To support this aspiration, we are co-designing a roadmap to support access to water for economic development with the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owners Corporation and Murray and Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nation confederation.
“Today (the first meeting of the Water for Country Project Control Group) represents the start of true engagement of Traditional Owners to effectively embed Aboriginal values and uses of water into Victoria’s waterways management framework.” Brendan Kennedy, Co-chair Water for Country Project Control Group
Investing in water for Country
The Aboriginal Water Program aims to better include Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in the way water is managed and to reconnect communities to water for cultural, economic, customary and spiritual purposes. As part of this commitment, the government is rolling out a range of locally-focused projects and recruiting Aboriginal Water Officers to support communities to increase understanding and appreciation of water values, uses and aims.
To support this important initiative, the Water for Country Project Control Group — comprising 12 Victorian Aboriginal people — has been established to provide specialist advice, strategic direction and guidance on investment in projects.
The first round of Aboriginal Water Grants was announced in June 2018, with eight successful Traditional Owner Groups and catchment management authorities receiving funding, and three additional Aboriginal Water Officers being appointed. The grants enable Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to conduct research on Country and local projects to enable proper understanding of Aboriginal water values, uses, aims and requirements, including cultural heritage. Further rounds of grants are scheduled for late 2018.
Achieving shared benefits
Aboriginal values of water are being recognised in Victoria’s water planning and management frameworks. Initial steps have been taken to recognise Aboriginal values and ecological knowledge in waterway management strategies, sustainable water strategies and state environmental protection policies.
Significant benefits can be achieved for Aboriginal people through environmental watering — whether by directly sustaining healthy Country and totem species for communities, or by enabling cultural activities to take place.
In 2017 the Victorian Environmental Water Holder, in partnership with Melbourne Water, delivered environmental water to Bolin Bolin Billabong, next to the Yarra River at Bulleen. The watering was endorsed by the Wurundjeri Traditional Owners, who have strong cultural connections to the billabong. Data collected during the watering, along with the existing knowledge of the Wurundjeri and the experiences of being on Country as part of the monitoring for Bolin Bolin, will inform future management objectives and practices.