Supporting Aboriginal values is a key element of Water for Victoria. We will include and respond to Aboriginal water values and work in respectful partnerships with Traditional Owners.
Water for Victoria Implementation, 2018
We are developing opportunities to deliver shared benefits of water in conjunction with Traditional Owners, water corporations, CMAs and the VEWH and include traditional ecological knowledge in all aspects of water planning.

We are investing $9 million over four years to establish an Aboriginal Water Program: a statewide approach to incorporating Aboriginal values and expertise into water management. This includes $4.7 million directly towards local projects with Traditional Owners to identify Aboriginal values and objectives for water on Country. These projects will gather evidence for what water is required to meet these objectives over the next 2-4 years, as Traditional Owners build their capacity to engage with the water entitlement framework.

An additional $5 million will be invested to develop a roadmap outlining how Aboriginal Victorians can access water for economic development.

Victoria’s Aboriginal Water Program

Victoria is leading the nation in the move towards a sustainable water management regime which recognises the rights of Victorian Traditional Owners to use, develop and control water resources on their Country.

Our Aboriginal Water Unit – established in 2016 - is now responsible for the program’s development and implementation. The program builds off several strong foundational projects that helped inform and shape the development of policy in Water for Victoria. We worked with Traditional Owners at a local level at all stages of program design, implementation and evaluation.

To guide our investment we are working closely with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to codesign a suitable governance model to develop an Aboriginal Water Framework that supports principles of self-determination.

The Water for Country Project Control Group (PCG) was formed in 2017 to guide this work and allow Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to be more involved in water planning and management across Victoria’s water catchments. The PCG is a unique Victorian Aboriginal forum to provide specialist advice and strategic direction to government.

The PCG’s role is to:

  • incorporate Traditional Owner and Aboriginal values, uses and objectives into CMA seasonal watering plans
  • guide the investment of $4.7 million from 2017 to 2020 to establish a state-wide Aboriginal Water Program that will better recognise and understand Aboriginal water values, uses, objectives, including investing in Aboriginal projects across the state
  • support the water sector to better partner with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to incorporate their rights and interests in water planning, including through shared benefits and using Aboriginal Waterway Assessments
  • build capacity across both Traditional Owners and the water sector to increase Aboriginal participation and ensure inclusive practices in water management

We are also working in partnership with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians to develop a roadmap for access to water for economic development. The roadmap will:

  • explore the best ways to support Aboriginal Victorians’ access to water in culturally appropriate ways that meets their needs and builds evidence through practical examples
  • provide funding for business cases to make the financial argument for public or private finance to support economic development and/or seed funding to support access by Victorian Traditional Owners to water entitlements

A draft report on the roadmap is being developed to provide recommendations on how the $5 million fund will be governed and administered. We expect to finalise the report and announce the first projects in 2018.

A new water initiative documenting Aboriginal history and the cultural values of the Wimmera River called Community Gathering - River Yarns was held in March 2017. The initiative was coordinated by Wimmera Catchment Management Authority and Barengi Gadjin Land Council in partnership with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the DELWP Aboriginal Water Unit.

River Yarns included five days of workshops and site visits involving Traditional Owners, Aboriginal groups, community
groups, historical societies and local and state government representatives. Starting in Horsham, the event followed the Wimmera River to Dimboola, Antwerp and Jeparit before continuing to Lake Hindmarsh, Outlet Creek and Lake Albacutya.

The group visited historical sites and recorded cultural use of plants and bush medicine. Guest speakers included archaeologist Abby Cooper, Wimmera River Improvement Committee chairman Gary Aitken, long-time Wimmera bird monitoring expert Jonathan Starks and Daniel Clarke from Aboriginal Victoria.

River Yarns is part of the Wimmera River Aboriginal Water Project which brings together local groups and individuals to officially document cultural information in the region using an Aboriginal Waterway Assessment tool.

Out in the field during the River Yarns project. Photo by Wimmera CMA.

Community members meet for the first Aboriginal Waterway Assessment at the ‘House of Feathers’ cultural site, by the Wimmera river in Horsham. Image courtesy Wimmera CMA.

Next Steps

Learning by doing

We are committed to building the capacity and participation of Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in the water sector. We are investing a further $502,000 to create new Aboriginal jobs and build the onground Aboriginal capacity with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN).

We are also supporting MLDRIN’s work with Traditional Owners to roll-out six Aboriginal Waterway Assessments in
Northern Victoria. A new Aboriginal Water Assessment tool is being developed that can gauge waterway health from an Aboriginal Cultural perspective in a manner that fully engages with Traditional Owners and enhances cultural
and mainstream scientific knowledge.

The new tool will help the water sector incorporate Traditional Owner cultural perspectives into water resource planning and inform Traditional Owners’ consent. It will help us consistently measure and prioritise river and wetland health from a Traditional Owner cultural values and usage perspective. The first assessments will be completed in 2018.

Legislative changes

The Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 has been introduced into Parliament to provide greater recognition and involvement of Aboriginal Victorians in the management and planning of waterways and catchments. These reforms are enshrining Aboriginal water values in law and ensure Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians continue to be recognised and considered when it comes to waterway management.