Indigenous Water Values And Water Planning In The Upper Roper River, Northern Territory

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Barber, Marcus; Jackson, Sue




Executive Summary: This report contains the preliminary results from archival and field research on Indigenous water values and water planning in the upper Roper River, Northern Territory. The research for this report was conducted during 2010 and 2011 but is ongoing. This report (referred to as Indigenous water values of the Upper Roper River) details results from research conducted up until July 2011, and emphasises material related to Indigenous water values, the significance of water to traditional owners and their belief systems. Following additional research, legal and hydrological advice, as well as further analysis, a second report focused on traditional water management will be completed to complement this report. It is anticipated that the second report will be published within two months of the first. The research was conducted alongside a water planning process undertaken in the upper Roper, and this report provides preliminary results to aid further public deliberations about that process. The research is being conducted under a research agreement with the Northern Land Council, with the fieldwork phase commencing in February 2011 following the completion of that agreement. The research process involved searches of relevant literature and archives, as well as fieldwork interviews with a range of Indigenous people resident in the catchment. Recommendations about important people to approach for interview were received from a range of sources, including a list of senior owners provided by the Northern Land Council and individual recommendations from initial interviewees. In total, 15 Indigenous people from the wider planning area were interviewed, with a further 15-20 relevant people approached and given the opportunity to participate. A range of non-Indigenous people relevant to the research topic were also informally or formally interviewed, including Northern Territory Government staff with responsibilities for water planning and/or conservation, Landcare/NGO workers, researchers familiar with the area, and Northern Land Council staff. The research was focused on general values, comments, and perspectives relevant to contemporary water planning and management. Based on the comments from fieldwork interviews and the archival research, we find that the values and interests in water expressed by Indigenous people in the upper Roper are consistent with the values and interests expressed by Indigenous people reported elsewhere in published literature. The archival material demonstrates that the upper Roper region, and particularly the area of Elsey Station and Elsey National Park which was the focus of the research, contains a significant number of water sources and water places, as well as a rich set of stories, Dreamings, and historical associations important to local Indigenous people. Participants in the fieldwork interviews consistently underlined the importance of what might be called ‘water for the country’, with that phrase encompassing water in the springs, rivers, creeks and waterholes, water at important Dreaming places, water for plants and animals, and water sufficient to maintain ongoing fishing and hunting by Indigenous people. One source in the anthropological literature suggests that mature trees along the Roper have particular significance, and the literature also contains evidence of a range of practices and protocols with respect to water and the country as a whole. Increased rainfall in recent years is reflected in interviewees’ comments about changes in the landscape, particularly the prevalence of water and changes in watercourses. The report contains a brief section on traditional water management as a preview to the subsequent report on that topic. The main focus of that section is the archival evidence relating to local Indigenous people constructing temporary weirs and water diversions in the braided section of the upper Roper, and of a legal case between pastoralists about the practi


Social and Cultural Anthropology

Published Version (pdf) (1.98MB)

This report has been placed on the CSIRO repository and may be made available to persons outside of CSIRO for non commercial purposes, in its entirety and without deletion of disclaimers and copyright information.


Technical Report (Author)


Barber, Marcus; Jackson, Sue. Indigenous Water Values And Water Planning In The Upper Roper River, Northern Territory. CSIRO; 2011. csiro:EP116824.

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