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Water Dreaming sees UC scientist challenge Parliament

Marcus Butler

22 March 2018: The current state of water management in Australia has left University of Canberra PhD candidate and Kamilaroi man Brad Moggridge certain there must be better strategies, and he’s calling on more than 60 millennia of wisdom to show the way.

Mr Moggridge, a researcher with the University’s Institute for Applied Ecology, has been investigating traditional knowledge and oral histories, preserved in stories and song to understand the connection between Australia’s first peoples and water resources.

“In 200 years or so since the arrival of Europeans in Australia, our rivers, waterways, wetlands have all deteriorated, many to the point of no return,” Mr Moggridge said.

“It’s important for people to understand that at the same time Aboriginal people lost their land rights, they also lost their water rights. It’s like the Terra Nullius policy for land had a water-centric twin, Aqua Nullius, and the traditional owners were displaced and dispossessed by both.”

Mr Moggridge was awarded a Science and Technology Australia Indigenous Scholarship to attend the 2018 Science Meets Parliament which took place on 13–14 February.

He said just as people recognise how traditional owners managed the land, survived climate change, sea level rise and the use of fire; it’s about time policymakers understood water was critical to Aboriginal survival for millennia.

“The Western style of water management hasn’t been working. Assigning monetary value to water, by separating it from land, this has opened it up to greed and corruption.”

“The connection which Aboriginal people have with the land is intrinsically linked to the water and sky as well,” Mr Moggridge, said. “We see them as a connected system, it’s only in the Western way that they have been separated and exploited.

“Traditional owners would respect the water and knew they had stewardship over it for those who would use it further downstream. In 200 years of change that’s been lost.”

“My work is about reinforcing the need for Aboriginal water to be incorporated into water management policies as a right alongside environmental water and the consumptive pool. However, it shouldn’t just be thought of as releasing more water in river systems, ground water, billabongs and springs are also important.

“There’s very little scientific work in water management that’s been done through the lens of traditional knowledge, but I’m hoping to show that by returning traditional water rights to Aboriginal people we can further close the gap,” he said.