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Issue #1860      March 13, 2019

Clean water a human right

Aboriginal lore-men gathered at the source of the Murrumbidgee River in the Kosciuszko National Park on March 2-3 to dance and conduct a healing ceremony. The ceremony followed another held at the mouth of the Murray River the week before. The traditional healing ceremony were led by Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison.

The healing ceremonies are being held to highlight the desecration of the Murray-Darling Basin “which needs protection from feral animals, greed, corruption, mismanagement and poor farming practices”, along with the impact of hard-hooved feral animals in the Kosciuszko National Park.

A group camp was set up at Cooinbul Hut on March 2.

Meanwhile, the river communities of Menindee, Wilcannia, Dareton, Walgett, Bourke and Dubbo also had a day of action on March 3 to bring attention to the water crisis affecting the Murray/Darling/Barwon river system.

On a recent visit to Menindee and Wilcannia, NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) chair Roy Ah-See said the two towns were severely affected by the water crisis.

“But this is not an isolated issue,” he said. “It is far-reaching and is taking a sickening and crippling toll on river communities along the Murray Darling Barwon. Yes, we have seen graphic images of fish population deaths in extreme numbers. But as NSWALC has continuously stressed, while sad and distressing to see, this is not about marine life.

“This is about the wellbeing of a river system which is central to the spiritual beliefs of Australia’s First Nations people and, now, the chronic health ramifications people are being forced to tolerate due to no fault of their own.

“Clean water is a basic human right. Our people are being deprived of that and their health is in jeopardy. Enough is enough. It is time to fix this problem once and for all.”

On another front aimed at protecting river systems, more than 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people occupied the foyer of Parliament House in Canberra recently calling for an end to destructive fossil fuel industries, and for better management of waterways.

As the protestors gathered at Parliament House, three peak Aboriginal organisations issued a united call for a full federal Royal Commission to uncover the truth about the declining health of rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin.

They included the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN), and the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations (FVTOC).

“First Nations are the original custodians of our iconic inland rivers. For 60,000 years, our knowledge and management maintained a sustainable, productive ecosystem. Now, catastrophic fish deaths, toxic blue-green algal blooms and unsafe drinking water are causing distress and hurting our communities,” MLDRIN chairperson Rene Woods said.

“The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has failed to engage with First Nations’ people sufficiently, to address Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).”

Acting Chair of Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) Michael Anderson said there was a requirement in the CBD to fully engage with First Nations people and to acquire their full prior informed consent with respect to biodiversity and planning for ecosystems in the Murray-Darling Basin.

“Only a full federal royal commission can get to the bottom of serious questions about the determination of Sustainable Diversion Limits, use of taxpayer funding and the recognition of First Nations water rights,” Mr Anderson said.

Water truck to the rescue

When Eileen Ballangarry saw reports of people unable to bathe their babies because of a lack of water in the far west of NSW, she knew she had to do something. And although Ms Ballangarry has lived in Bendigo, Victoria, for 39 years, she still feels connected to the area.

“These are my people. I’m a Barkindji woman (people of the Darling River) and all my family are from up that way,” she told the Koori Mail. Mrs Ballangarry and her husband Bob are organising a run to Pooncarie, and then on to Menindee, with a load of donated water bottles.

She’s calling for donations, and is organising a large trailer or a truck to transport the bottled water to where it is most needed.

“Seeing all those stories on Facebook and in the media broke my heart. The kids can’t even have a drink of water from the tap and people can’t bathe their babies unless they use bottled water,” she said.

“People can either donate cash or bottled water. It doesn’t matter how much because one bottle of water is better than no water at all.”

Mrs Ballangarry also plans to approach a water supplier to buy water in bulk so she is not stripping Bendigo of its bottled water supplies. The 71-year-old retiree said the trip would be an opportunity to visit family and do something practical.

Her husband Bob has a truck licence so he will be driving the seven hours to Pooncarie, and then onto Menindee, which is a couple of more hours away.

As for the causes of the water shortage, Mrs Ballangarry doesn’t buy the politicians’ line that it is because of drought.

“It has a bit to do with that but I think it’s much more than that. We’ve seen 120-year-old cod dying and they’ve been through drought before. This time it’s over the top because there’s been too much water siphoned from the system for irrigation. It’s totally stuffed up.”

Anyone wanting to make a donation or arrange to drop off bottled water can contact Mrs Ballangarry on 0427 151 947, or on her Facebook page, which is in her name.

Koori Mail

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