Dharriwaa Elders Group

Statement from the Dharriwaa Elders Group and UNSW Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership team

Hosts of UNSW Impact Engineers and the Global Water Institute Walgett visit 4-6 February, 2019

The Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) has long held concerns for the health of surface and ground waters of Walgett. The DEG understands the cultural significance and vital importance of water to the Social and Emotional Wellbeing of the Walgett Aboriginal Community. Over its CD years of operation, DEG has become increasingly aware of the vulnerability of Walgett’s water infrastructure and capacity, and the lack of planning for the impact of climate change. The DEG is also aware of the low priority that the views of the Walgett community are given in planning for water security.

Our rivers, the lifeblood of our community, have been grossly mismanaged given our changing climate, and water saving measures have not been put in place. Walgett means ‘the meeting of two rivers’, the Barwon and Namoi, and yet no water currently flows in those rivers at Walgett. The town’s drinking water supply is coming from the Great Artesian Basin since the Namoi river has dried up. We have held significant concerns for some time about the high levels of sodium in this bore water and the serious implications for a community with high levels of chronic disease, informed by world experts who have tested Walgett’s drinking water. Long term use of bore water in the drinking water system is neither a safe or viable solution for Walgett.

Our concerns were realised when Walgett’s drinking water supply was jeopardised over the new year period after a breakdown at the local treatment plant, leaving the water levels in the reservoir at critical levels and Walgett Shire Council urging residents to conserve filtered water for drinking. With temperatures reaching well over ND degrees, some residents were also left without air conditioning after evaporative air conditioners could not operate. Concerned people from across NSW donated bottled water to Walgett residents, in a moving display of generosity and shared outrage that Walgett could be so vulnerable to losing its water supply.

Dharriwaa Elders Group urges water decision makers to ensure communities like Walgett are provided with reliable, safe drinking water immediately. WATER IS LIFE.Image credit: Dharriwaa Elders Group. L-R back row: Virginia Robinson (Secretary, DEG), Professor Greg Leslie (Director UNSW-GWI), Peta MacGillivray (Project Manager, UNSW Yuwaya Ngarra-li), Wayne Beddall (Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service), L-R front row: Naduni Obadage (IMPACT Engineers UNSW), Vanessa Hickey (Project Officer, DEG Yuwaya Ngarra-li); Sulakshni Jayawickrama (IMPACT Engineers UNSW); Stephanie Bagnell (Student Projects Manager, NSW Engineering), Tharitha Murage (Impact Engineers UNSW).

Dharriwaa Elders Group has been working to develop community-led solutions to its concerns about water and other pressing social, economic and environmental issues in Walgett. ‘Yuwaya Ngarra-li’, which means ‘Vision’ in the Yuwaalaraay/Gamilaraay language, is a unique partnership between the DEG and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney to work towards the DEG’s positive vision for change in Walgett, by growing and building on community strengths and assets. Our partnership, supported by the UNSW Institute for Global Development, is culturally and community-led, rights-based, strengths-focused and holistic. We collaborate across all UNSW faculties to bring evidence-based solutions to real world challenges with the aim of improving health and wellbeing for Aboriginal people in Walgett as well as the social, built and physical environment

Water and related issues are a priority for the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership. As part of the long-term commitment to Walgett through Yuwaya Ngarra-li, UNSW Engineering’s IMPACT Engineers and the Global Water Institute were invited by DEG to visit many months ago to scope water projects, including new infrastructure, training and long term capacity building.

IMPACT Engineers is a student project that strives to “take the skillset of university students across disciplines and apply them to real world situations where they can make a tangible difference”. They recently completed Project Pathuma in Sri Lanka, which contributed to tackling chronic kidney disease through the design and installation of a community-owned and operated desalination system in the village.

The UNSW Global Water Institute (GWI) is a multi-disciplinary world leader in water research, innovation and problem-solving. It draws on water expertise from seven faculties and thirteen specialist centres across UNSW, creating Australia’s most advanced water knowledge hub. Director of UNSW-GWI Professor Greg Leslie is providing ongoing advice to Walgett through Yuwaya Ngarra-li, and is supervising the IMPACT Engineering students.

In 2018, DEG invited Impact Engineers to scope water solutions for the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) Community Garden and the design of chilled drinking water kiosks for the township as early projects. While hosted in Walgett this week, the students met with DEG Elders and staff, WAMS staff and Chairperson, staff of Walgett Shire Council, the President of Walgett School Reference Group and Walgett AECG, and local water organisers. Students were provided with opportunities to learn about Walgett’s history, environment and challenges.

As part of the Yuwaya Ngarra-li partnership, UNSW Engineering and the Global Water Institute have committed to: 

  • Provide a long term commitment to the community to advise and assist on water and related issues
  • Work as part of an inclusive, community led approach towards new infrastructure, training and long term capacity building
  • Incorporate Indigenous knowledges
  • Support multi-disciplinary teams from the faculties of Engineering, Science, Business, Medicine
  • Implement initial projects include drought proofing the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service community garden and drinking water kiosks in the Walgett main street

While this visit was planned before the recent crisis in Walgett’s water supply, it has been a timely opportunity for DEG and UNSW to collaborate on identifying the crucial next steps needed for systemic change around the security of our rivers and drinking water.

For more information, please contact:

Wendy Spencer, Yuwaya Ngarra-li (DEG): 9828 2619
Peta MacGillivray, Yuwaya Ngarra-li (UNSW): 0402 510 566
Greg Leslie, Director UNSW-GWI: 0414 234 345
Stephanie Bagnell, Student Projects Manager, UNSW Engineering: 0419 798 101

Hero image: Credit - Dharriwaa Elders Group. Iconic Walgett location where the Barwon and Namoi rivers meet.L-R back row Tharitha Murage, Sulakshni Jayawickrama, Naduni Obadage (IMPACT Engineers UNSW), Vanessa Hickey (Project Officer, DEG Yuwaya Ngarra-li), Kim Sullivan (Elders Support Officer, DEG); Peta MacGillivray, Wendy Spencer (Yuwaya Ngarra-li UNSW/DEG), Clem Dodd (Speaker, DEG), Stephanie Bagnell (Student Projects Manager, NSW Engineering), Professor Greg Leslie (Director UNSW-GWI), in front seated Virginia Robinson (Secretary, DEG). 


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