Indigenous water values and water planning in the upper Roper River, Northern Territory

Indigenous water values and water planning in the upper Roper River, Northern Territory Report

  • Author(s): Marcus Barber, Sue Jackson
  • Published: 2011
  • Publisher: CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country Flagship

Abstract: The research was focused on general values, comments, and perspectives relevant to contemporary water planning and management. Based on the comments from fieldwork interviews and the archival research, we find that the values and interests in water expressed by Indigenous people in the upper Roper are consistent with the values and interests expressed by Indigenous people reported elsewhere in published literature. The archival material demonstrates that the upper Roper region, and in particular the area of Elsey Station and Elsey National Park which was the focus of the research, contains a significant number of water sources and water places, as well as a rich set of stories, Dreamings, and historical associations important to local Indigenous people. Participants in the fieldwork interviews consistently underlined the importance of what might be called ‘water for the country’, with that phrase encompassing water in the springs, rivers, creeks and waterholes, water at important Dreaming places, water for plants and animals, and water sufficient to maintain ongoing fishing and hunting by Indigenous people. One source in the anthropological literature suggests that mature trees along the Roper have particular significance, and the literature also contains evidence of a range of practices and protocols with respect to water and the country as a whole. Increased rainfall in recent years is reflected in interviewees’ comments about changes in the landscape, particularly the prevalence of water and changes in watercourses. The report contains a brief section on traditional water management as a preview to the subsequent report on that topic. The main focus of that section is the archival evidence relating to local Indigenous people constructing temporary weirs and water diversions in the braided section of the upper Roper, and of a legal case between pastoralists about the practice in the 1940s. In terms of contemporary developments, the recent establishment of the Mangarrayi Rangers is an important new element of the Natural Resource Management landscape in the focal area of Elsey Station, complementing the established presence of the Jawoyn rangers in Katherine and the areas in the northern part of the water planning area. The impacts of new and existing commercial developments were also raised by some interviewees, including the damage caused by the local quarry and the water usage of the recently established mango farm.

Notes: Report to the National Water Commission and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities

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Suggested Citation
Marcus Barber, Sue Jackson, 2011, Indigenous water values and water planning in the upper Roper River, Northern Territory, Report, viewed 19 May 2024,

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