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Recognition of Aboriginal rights, interests and values in river research and management: Perspectives from northern Australia


  • Sue Jackson,

  • Michael Storrs,

  • Joe Morrison

  • Sue Jacksonis a research scientist with CSIRO (PMB 44, Winnellie, NT 0822, Australia. Email:,Michael Storrsis the Executive Officer of the Caring for Country Unit of the Northern Land Council (PO Box 42921, Casuarina, NT 0811, Australia. Email:, andJoe Morrisonis Coordinator of the North Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT 0808, Australia. Email: This paper developed out of a presentation given by the authors to the Sustainable Futures for Australia's Tropical Rivers Conference in Darwin in February 2004.


Summary  Aboriginal people perceive land and water as equal components of country, and hold distinct perspectives on water relating to identity and attachment to place, environmental knowledge, resource security, and the exercise of custodial responsibilities to manage interrelated parts of customary estates. This paper documents Aboriginal perspectives from certain areas in northern Australia, defined as the region of tropical savannas stretching from Townsville to Broome, and offers a number of suggestions for improving current knowledge of Aboriginal values and Aboriginal participation rates in water and catchment management. The paper highlights the cultural significance of rivers and water in selected northern regions, and provides a preliminary outline of research and management priorities as determined by key north Australian Aboriginal land management organizations. Priorities include developing the capacity for collaborative aquatic resource management, conservation of traditional ecological knowledge, riparian resource inventories and threat assessment, as well as improved Aboriginal participation in catchment management and water policy. Although there is a strong north Australian focus to this paper, the issues raised are relevant to water and natural resource management policy throughout Australia.