Box HER7 Macquarie River and the Macquarie Marshes—supporting cultural values through water management

The cultural values of some places important to Indigenous people may be dependent on water. The internationally significant Macquarie Marshes are the traditional homelands of the Ngiyampaa–Wayilwan people. Explorer Charles Sturt observed them camping along the Macquarie River and using elaborate fish traps in 1833. In May 2016, the Kevin McLeod Reconciliation Award from the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy made it possible for Ngiyampaa–Wayilwan elders to undertake a journey along the Macquarie River and into the marshes with environmental water and natural resource managers from the Australian and New South Wales governments.

Although they no longer live in the marshes, Uncle Tom Carney and Great-Aunty Shirley Stroud happily talked about their connection with important cattle and sheep stations, such as Oxley and Buckiinguy. A large eroded area on the floodplain, possibly an important gathering place, showed evidence of traditional stone toolmaking and ovens. Elsewhere, scarred coolamon and canoe trees sheltered saltbush and warrigal greens—traditional bush foods. These vital and knowledgeable elders enjoyed spending time on Country, but they were saddened by the degraded state of this culturally important river and floodplain landscape, and expressed concern about its future.

Mixed marsh–redgum forest wetland in the North Marsh Nature Reserve, Macquarie Marshes, after recent rain. The wetland supports habitat for nesting wedge-tailed eagles and other bird life, frogs and traditional cultural plants, such as nardoo and reeds

Mixed marsh–redgum forest wetland in the North Marsh Nature Reserve, Macquarie Marshes, after recent rain. The wetland supports habitat for nesting wedge-tailed eagles and other bird life, frogs and traditional cultural plants, such as nardoo and reeds

Photo by Nerida Sloane

Mixed marsh–redgum forest wetland in the North Marsh, Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve, New South Wales after recent rain. The wetland supports habitat for nesting wedge-tailed eagles and other bird life, frogs, and traditional cultural plants, such as nardoo and reeds.

Australian Government and New South Wales environmental water allocations help to support river and wetland health in the Macquarie catchment, particularly during dry times. In 2012, wetter conditions across the catchment resulted in environmental water being released into the marshes during spring. Culturally significant reed beds in the North Marsh Nature Reserve were inundated as part of this flow. Following the flow, 140 Aboriginal women from across New South Wales gathered for a week to collect reeds and share their knowledge and skills of traditional basket weaving at the culture camp. This demonstrates the multiple benefits of environmental water, including the maintenance of cultural values and practices of Aboriginal people.

As the 2016 Macquarie River journey drew to a close, discussions focused on how, by working together, stakeholders can contribute to linking environmental water with cultural values and activities—to maintain a ‘living culture’ and to provide a way for stories ‘from way back’ to be told to the young people, so they can be involved in environmental water planning and ensure that Country is looked after for those to come.

Source: Louise Armstrong, Senior Policy Officer Ecological Communities, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy

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Ruby salt bush (Enchylaena tormentosa) berries (a good source of vitamin C) found with warrigal greens under a large, water-stressed coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah), which forms part of the threatened ecological community coolibah–black box woodlands of the Darling Riverine Plains and the Brigalow Belt South Bioregions.

Photo by Nerida Sloane

Ruby salt bush (Enchylaena tormentosa) berries (a good source of vitamin C) found with warrigal greens under a large, water-stressed coolibah (Eucalyptus coolabah), which forms part of the threatened ecological community coolibah–black box woodlands of the Darling Riverine Plains and the Brigalow Belt South Bioregions.

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Box HER7 Macquarie River and the Macquarie Marshes—supporting cultural values through water management. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/case-study/heritage/box-her7-macquarie-river-and-macquarie-marshes-supporting-cultural-values, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0