Rowena Brown and Peter Creaser (eds) Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Services, South Australia and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage;
Sean Kerins, Northern Land Council;
Jane L Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates;
Mona Nugula Liddy, Daly River Community Reference Group
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
In 2003 the Northern Territory Government set up a community reference group (CRG) to prepare a land use plan for the Daly River catchment. The group was formed following expressions of public concern over land clearing and extraction of water for irrigated agriculture and mixed farming. There are many Aboriginal language groups in the catchment and their views needed to be taken into account. Mona Liddy was selected to represent the Wagiman, whose land is in the heart of the Daly region where they have established their own Ranger group and are undertaking many land management activities. Wagiman are also developing businesses such as arts and crafts, bush harvesting, soap making and cattle.
I am a female senior Wagiman who was elected by my elders. This was a significant role, and gave my right to be involved with the decision making for my people, also to protect my people’s right to the water.
I found it a struggle being in the minority. There were three female members on the committee out of 18 representatives; also, I was the only Aboriginal woman present. There should have been more women. There is women’s business and men’s business. I would have liked to have a Wagiman male there. I think that is an issue for everybody, in the Aboriginal way.
My Uncle said to me, ‘Daughter, “don’t let that river dry up’. This itself was a big ask from my elders.
Many other traditional people from the other country around the Daly also asked for my advice or assistance regarding our united stands for our river.
My passion and inheritance for this country comes from my mother and my grandparents. I remember when I was growing up my mother and aunties said to me: ‘We sent you to the white man’s school so that you can learn their ways, then you come back to us and you marry up the two up, this you teach to us. We show you the old ways and you show us the new ones’.
I found this allowed me to balance up my way of thinking, and to be a wise person in my community; this is all about true leadership.
In the past the government and pastoralists did not accept traditional owners as land managers; they saw us as doing nothing with our country.
Having me on the Reference Group shows that things are changing from the old way of doing things; it showed to the others that my uncle and the elders had faith in me and trusted me in their place. My community teachings helped me in terms of leadership and empowerment.
I was proud to be on this committee, as it gave me the opportunity to have a say in policy making decisions, and to promote reconciliation amongst black and white.
This in itself was a unique experience seeing black and white coming in unity, and forming partnerships with each other.
I sat and observed how the white man conducted their business on my country, and hear the words ‘my country’ expressed from black and whites to the government.
During the CRG meetings many conflicts arose amongst committee members and scores were settled outside the meeting. I felt sometimes like an alien when this happened, as the topic of the disagreement was economic value, my value was to protect my cultural heritage and my home; I did not want my home to be a memory.
I found out a lot of the white people felt they had more of a say, because of their status in the white community, and they had money in their pockets. (Money talks.)
I felt like saying, ‘You are an impostor, this is my country’.
Some of the CRG members did not mean to be disrespectful to my traditional culture; this was due to their ignorance or not having the opportunity to mix with our people.
The committee were keen for traditional owners to share their stories and knowledge at the meetings, but due to the short timeframe this could not be achieved.
I’m still coming to terms with it. The whole process was so rushed.
We were supposed to go out and talk to all the other groups — that never happened.
We should have gone out to other people’s country and to talk amongst ourselves. It made people ashamed to come to those public meetings that the government held. They didn’t want to talk up in front of all those white people. They were really angry for being left out of the process. It made them feel very angry when they came to those public meetings and they had to be on the outside looking in.
Overall there was a lack of Indigenous submissions, involvement, and public speakers.
The whole thing was set up for educated whites. It was very technical and hard to take it all in. The talk, decisions, went round and round in circles. No decisions were reached. A lot of people just didn’t know. We had insufficient knowledge, and the talk of water allocation and water trade-offs scared a lot of people. The language they used and the place names were different to what we use. We have different names for the places they often talked about. I couldn’t picture it.
You can’t just talk about the river issues at the table. It should be like show and tell. When you see it you can think about it; we feel it as a part of us. It’s our life.
The white decision makers should see it through our eyes.
We have seen changes throughout our country and it’s a part of our sad history. The white people talk about adaptive management; we the traditional owners are now experts on this, due to the changes from when the first white man walked onto our land. Our existence depended on us adapting to their changes, changes to our river system, change of climate, changes of introduced species that affected the food chain, changes that kill our way of life, its history repeating itself, but due to these changes we are still here.
I didn’t have the opportunity to go out to my own country to get up-to-date knowledge — we visited a lot of non-Indigenous places, like the farms, the research station, power and water site at Katherine, we cruised up the Daly to look at the banks and saw a large crocodile caught in a trap, not many wildlife was seen or recorded.
I was determined to stay and committed to attend these meetings, taking in all of the white man’s jargon and their scientific data and the usage of technical terms.
But why isn’t our cultural knowledge recognised and accepted by the scientific community?
Every meeting we had six or seven reports to go through. Fancy having a community Aboriginal person having to deal with aquifers, biodiversity, all that jargon, and the scientific data. It was so overwhelming.
I got tired of hearing the government owns the water.
During this process the committee each had an equal say, this was due to the experience and professionalism of how the chairperson conducted these meetings.
I did have an input from a Wagiman’s perspective, but I could not speak of another traditional owner’s country.
I didn’t agree with the ‘share the pain theory’—make a compromise now and then sort out the problems later. The price is higher for Aboriginal people. It’s our home. We were thinking about the Murray and the Darling. At the end of the day the Daly is our home. We will stay there forever. The business people and many farmers can just sell up and go.
I was asked, ‘Did you think you made a difference?’.
I think so. By just being there, they could not ignore me, there were a lot of people that didn’t know that Wagiman people existed, and did not understand my cultural values.
Overall the draft report was completed, an Aboriginal Reference Group was formed and we are meeting on a regular basis.
Finally we have a voice.
The CRG has released their report in November 2005. It is available on the Northern Territory Government’s website (www.ipe.nt.gov.au/whatwedo/dalyregion ). A preliminary study of Aboriginal perspectives on land and water use is also available on this website, or from Sue Jackson at CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Darwin (email@example.com). The new catchment management advisory group has been established and Mona and Willie Hewitt represent the Daly River Aboriginal Reference Group on that new group. For more information about the Aboriginal Reference Group, contact Marc Wohling at the Northern Land Council (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Links to another web site
Links to data in the DRS
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