Case study 8 - Indigenous consultation and engagement in the Daly River catchment, Northern Territory


On 21 September 2015, responsibility for water policy and resources was transferred to the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources - Administrative Arrangement Order made on 21 September 2015.

This website will be updated to reflect these changes.


Background and geographic area

Some 26.7 per cent of the total population in the Daly River catchment is Indigenous. As part of a comprehensive strategy for Indigenous engagement within the Daly River Catchment, a peak indigenous body was established to represent Indigenous interests in a wide range of natural resource management issues within the catchment.

The Daly River catchment is located approximately 200 kilometres south of Darwin (Figure 1). It covers an area of approximately 53,197 square kilometres and has an annual outflow of around 6,730 gigalitres. Major rivers within the catchment include the Dry, Katherine, Fergusson, Douglas, Fish and Daly rivers.

The map shows Daly River catchment in south of Darwin

Figure 1: Map of Daly River catchment

Daly River Management Advisory Committee

The Northern Territory Government established the Daly River Management Advisory Committee (DRMAC) in 2006 to develop options for the sustainable use and conservation of natural resources within the Daly River catchment.

The goal of DRMAC is to promote the highest standards of management of land, water and other resources in the region so that the important values people associate with the Daly River are protected.

DRMAC advises on the development of an adaptive management decision-making framework, which is used to balance the needs of development and conservation in the catchment. The major issues DRMAC has focused on using this approach are native vegetation clearing and water resource management.

DRMAC membership reflects equity and diversity; representatives from major stakeholder groups within the region and community are included. The members of DRMAC have skills, knowledge and experience in the Daly region and are able to incorporate community values and beliefs in land and water management and decisions.

The following stakeholder groups and organisations are represented on DRMAC:

  • Northern Territory Cattleman's Association
  • Northern Territory Agricultural Association
  • Northern Territory Horticultural Association
  • Environment Centre Northern Territory
  • Katherine Region Tourist Association
  • Indigenous Landowners (Aboriginal Reference Group)
  • Amateur Fisherman's Association Northern Territory
The diagram shows Communication flow-chart in the Daly River Management Advisory Committee

Figure 2: Communication flow chart of the Daly River Management Advisory Committee

Approach to dealing with Stakeholder engagement

In the Daly River Catchment, land and water resources remain highly significant to Aboriginal groups' way of life, identity and family history. Many of the sacred sites recorded within the Daly region by the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority are associated directly with the Daly River and its tributaries. Aboriginal people rely on the Daly River being kept in good health as it is used for drinking purposes, fishing and collecting food, fibre and medicines. Aboriginal people also have customary obligations associated with water, including the responsibility of keeping the water clean, protecting access to particular places along the river, protecting cultural knowledge, providing cultural education, and sharing songs and stories involving the river.

To ensure these cultural values are recognised in future decision making and management in the Daly River catchment, the Daly River Aboriginal Reference Group has been established.

Daly River Aboriginal Reference Group

The Daly River Aboriginal Reference Group functions as the peak body for indigenous landowners on all natural resource management issues in the Daly River catchment and operates as a subcommittee of DRMAC. The group includes representatives from ten language groups in the Daly Catchment. At least two traditional owners from each language group are represented on the reference group.

DRMAC works closely with the reference group to ensure their traditional connection to landscape is recognised and adequate consideration is given to how management decisions may affect Indigenous cultural and social values. This includes involving Indigenous people in economic development opportunities and ensuring there is significant input into policy development, planning and management. Three members of the reference group are also members of DRMAC: this arrangement facilitates ongoing communication between these groups. Additional opportunities to consult with local indigenous communities are also sought and ideally facilitated by the relevant reference group member.

There are ten language groups represented on the reference group. During the water allocation planning process, information and issues discussed by the DRMAC are taken back to the reference group for each language group member to consider in relation to their own country, people and story. Sometimes this involves going back to other members of their own language group and family before advising the reference group. This on-ground discussion takes time because it requires understanding of complex technical information and western concepts of resource management. Sometimes meetings are held with each language group to allow them to consider possible implications for their country. Language groups report back to the reference group members and ultimately to DRMAC for consideration in water allocation planning processes.

It is vital that all language groups are engaged because they are the only people who can speak for the resources on their land. The following language groups are represented on the Daly River Aboriginal Reference Group:

  • Wadjigan
  • Malak Malak
  • Maranunnggu
  • Kamu
  • Larbagunyun
  • Wagiman South
  • Wagiman North
  • Dagoman (Wujalawun)
  • Wardaman (Wungayatiawun)
  • Wardaman (Yubulyawun).

More information

More infomation, please visit: National Water Initiative