Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment – Cultural and Social program


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.

Northern Australia's water resources and aquatic ecosystems are important to individuals and communities across northern Australia for a range of reasons – cultural, spiritual, recreational, and economic.

The aim of the Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment's (the assessment's) Cultural and Social program was to understand the socio-cultural values, beliefs and practices associated with water and how these may be affected by changes in water availability. In order to do this, the Cultural and Social program:

  • Identified key Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups and organisations
  • In collaboration with key groups and organisations, identified socio-cultural values, beliefs and practices as these relate to water.

In catchments identified by jurisdictions as likely to experience water resource development, the Cultural and Social program worked with jurisdictions to:

  • Identify requirements for specific socio-cultural studies or analyses
  • Conduct location-specific case studies to understand socio-cultural values, beliefs and practices as these relate to water including patterns of usage, religious implications, economic activities, and social, and political issues.

The program also identified tools and processes to articulate Indigenous social and economic aspirations with respect to water, and made recommendations for directions and priorities for future research.

The outputs from the Cultural and Social program may be used to inform future decisions regarding the development of water resources in northern Australia. The outcomes of this program may also inform broader natural resource management issues in the north.


Review of existing cultural and social initiatives and key groups and organisations across northern Australia associated with water

An initial review of projects, research initiatives and water planning processes relevant to cultural values, beliefs and practices was completed in September 2009.

Identifying tools and processes to capture/articulate Indigenous social and economic aspirations with respect to water in Northern Australia

The objective of this project was to develop knowledge and understanding of Indigenous social, cultural and economic aspirations with respect to land and water management and development in the north of Australia. The project was led by the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), which produced five reports and a summary and recommendations booklet.

Social and Cultural Values project

This project was conducted by CSIRO, and consists of three connected sub-projects, the findings of which increased our understanding of socio-cultural values, beliefs and practices held by various water using groups across northern Australia. The three sub projects were:

The ecological, cultural and social values associated with aquatic ecosystems in northern Australia

This project produced a desk top literature review that identified the ecological, cultural and social values related to water.

Strategic Indigenous Reserves in Wild River catchment areas of the southern Gulf of Carpentaria

This project was run by the Carpentaria Land Council Aboriginal Corporation. The objectives of the project were to:

  • Develop a framework and recommended procedures for allocation of an Indigenous reserve of water in the Wild River catchment areas in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria,
  • Provide recommendations to the Queensland state government,
  • Contribute to development of Strategic Indigenous Reserve policy and practices across northern Australia by working with the Indigenous Water Policy Group (of the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance) and sharing the lessons from case study experiences, process and approaches in non declared wild river areas done interstate, locally and regionally.

Contact us

For further queries or to receive updates, email or phone 1800 218 478.

See also