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Keywords:

  • Ord catchment;
  • Indigenous water values;
  • cultural flows;
  • environmental flows;
  • colonisation;
  • geography

The growing use of environmental flows in rivers and wetlands around the world, aimed at maintaining ecological health by allocating water to the environment, arguably also provides space for recognition of Indigenous water values. Theoretically, if environmental water values, which nominally determine what water is made available for restoring river health through environmental flows, do coincide with Indigenous water values, then this mutual benefit is conceivable. However, in contexts such as the Ord in northern Australia, where environmental water values are defined as post-dam construction, then further marginalisation of Indigenous interests likely ensues. This paper looks at the history of two key industries in the Ord, pastoralism and irrigation, to examine the origins of its current geography of environmental water values. A geography of water emerges that unpacks postcolonial relations as manifest in society–water relations. I examine how particular colonial values that reinforce the status quo of industry in the Ord also dominate water management, effectively sidelining Indigenous water values.