Water for country

July 21, 2020

Tapping into thousands of years of observation and water management by Australia’s First Peoples holds the key to future water policy in Australia.

Bradley Moggridge is a Kamilaroi water scientist, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Water and Environment Trust and a recent Young Tall Poppy Scientist of the Year in the ACT. Managing the aquifers, water catchments and rivers that span Australia’s arid lands lies deep in his blood. “My people have been interested in water for more than 65,000 years,” he says.

Moggridge is a hydrogeologist who recently led Australia’s only Aboriginal water unit at the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

His Master’s thesis, in 2005, at the University of Technology Sydney explored how Aboriginal knowledge was used to understand and access groundwater. “The flexibility that allows exploratory research through university science gave me the opportunity to connect the dots between hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry and Aboriginal science,” he says.

Moggridge is now completing his PhD at the University of Canberra, where his research links western science with traditional knowledge to develop best-practice methodologies for water planning and management tailored to specific landscapes.

He says that his own heritage, as a Murri man from the Kamilaroi Nation of north-western New South Wales, deeply informs his work.

Australia has been home to thousands of generations of its First Peoples despite its arid landscapes. Traditional knowledge about how to find water sites has been integral to the survival of Aboriginal people, says Moggridge.

“Move away from the coastal regions and the river lands, and your dependence on surface water diminishes. In a dry landscape, knowing when, where and how to find water, where groundwater is the only source of water, that is how our people survived,” he says.

“Aboriginal ways of thinking and managing country involve scientific processes and generations of observation — why there’s a stand of gum trees here, why birds go to a certain place — but it has been regarded as myth and legend.”

Rangers in the Great Sandy Desert cite stories about one dryland location that had previously been a river. “Hydrogeologists drilling there found evidence of a paleo channel,” says Moggridge. “This is old, old knowledge.

Related: Tracing Change: Past Australian Environments

“Our stories hold the key to managing water on this continent. It’s a knowledge system that has survived changes in climate for millennia. Protecting water remains a cultural obligation.

“The support of university science will let me continue my work, applying an Indigenous methodology to the way we manage water.”

Fran Molloy

PATH

>> Bachelor of Environmental Science, Australian Catholic University

>> Master of Science, Hydrogeology and Groundwater management, University of Technology Sydney 

>> Team Leader, Aboriginal Water Initiative, NSW Department of Primary Industries

>> Special Advisor, First Peoples Water, Water Stewardship Australia

>> Indigenous Water Research Specialist, CSIRO

>> Environmental Officer, Camden Council

This article appears in Australian University Science issue 2.

Related stories

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *