Indigenous group wants to be heard on MD Plan

An indigenous group in southern New South Wales want to see more environmental water flowing down local rivers. However, they say they need to be consulted about it.

An indigenous group in southern New South Wales want to see more environmental water flowing down local rivers. However, they say they need to be consulted about it.

Wiradjuri elder Michael Lyons, who lives in Narrandera, said 1 per cent of water in the Murrumbidgee River was allocated to Aboriginal people for cultural or environmental use. He said there needed to be improved communication about where that allocated water ended up.

“Indigenous groups get 1 per cent of the water that comes down the Murrumbidgee, but where does that water go? I can’t put a pump in and pump it up to my place,” he said. “We should have more consultation with the elders. We must figure out what to do with it because we can’t use it for profit. We’ve got to give it back to the environment. It should be up to us to know where it goes, instead of the state or federal water.”

Plan to deliver more water to the environment

The state government’s Reconnecting River Country Program seeks to remove barriers preventing the effective delivery of environmental water required under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The Department of Planning and the Environment said over the past six months, the program had focused on the Murray River, the NSW-Victorian border, and would now shift to the Murrumbidgee River.

Wiradjuri man and Michael Lyons’ nephew Braden Lyons is the youngest and first-ever Indigenous councillor in Narrandera.

Speaking on behalf of himself and not the local council, Braden welcomed the program. However, he said he had not heard about it until he was approached for comment.

“My main concern is there hasn’t been much consultation with Wiradjuri people and any other Indigenous group along the Murrumbidgee River,” he said. “I think it’s essential that consultation has to be a priority with Wiradjuri people. We are the traditional custodians of the land.”

Under the Reconnecting River Country Program, parts of Koori’s Beach in Narrandera would be inundated if a flow limit of 40,000 megalitres per day was adopted. The site is a sacred place for Aboriginal people, where funerals and cultural dances are held.

Mr Lyons said he also had not heard much about the program. He agreed with the idea of increasing environmental flows. He said it would help with fish breeding and supporting cultural practices.

“Once a year, about 50 or 60 families go fishing, hunting and gathering,” he said. “We’ve got to have places to go to do that.”

Government committed to talks with Indigenous group

The Department of Planning and Environment said the Reconnecting River Country Program was committed to fair and meaningful outcomes for First Nations people.

“Their knowledge and experience are critical in helping inform the program and its outcomes,” it said. “We have had more than 100 interactions with First Nations people and groups.”

The statement said the program’s focus would now shift.

“Over the next 12 months, the program will hold workshops with First Nations people of the Murrumbidgee River.”

Water Infrastructure New South Wales has engaged roughly 100 private landholders across both river systems for direct consultation on the program.

The NSW Farmers Association also held a forum on the program and its impacts on landowners in late June.

The department also said it was working to improve Aboriginal rights and access to water,  reflected in the NSW Water Strategy, released in September 2021.

Braden said he remained optimistic when asked if he were confident his community would be heard.

“Speak to Uncle Mick, speak to our other elders of our community, speak to our young people because we are the future,” he said. “I’m hoping. So, time will tell, I guess.”

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