The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, representing Traditional Owner Groups of the Fitzroy River (Martuwarra), has called for caution on irrigation development and urged for more research on how the river already generates value for local Aboriginal people.
A recent two-day workshop in Broome provided opportunities for the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council to learn more about the research into the ecology, hydrology and socio-economic aspects of the river and region. Researchers also identified significant gaps in understanding how the river's largely unaltered flows support productive fisheries and biodiversity conservation.
The value of Aboriginal people’s use the river is also poorly understood, although the river is important for health, nutrition and wellbeing. Preliminary research suggests these values are very substantial but could be put at risk by irrigation development that alters flow patterns.
"Plans to allocate water for irrigation should be considered a re-allocation because water in the river and aquifers already sustains the environment and Aboriginal people’s food, wellbeing and cultural needs,” said the Council’s Chair Dr Anne Poelina.
The Council reviewed a new report from the University of South Australia that highlighted how irrigation development is unlikely to be profitable or provide many jobs. The report found in contrast investing in Aboriginal enterprises like carbon farming, bushfoods, tourism and the arts had significant potential to enhance livelihoods.
“We need development without exploitation, Western Australia could be doing more to manage and celebrate the National Heritage values of the river and promoting them to grow economic activities and jobs in the Fitzroy Catchment,” said Dr Poelina.
“The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council believes that we can have a sustainable development scenario for the Fitzroy River Catchment. This must start with ensuring sustainable livelihoods for people along with the health of the river. Commitment to protecting the cultural and environmental values that have been recognized as part of the National Heritage of Australia, will set this river apart and form the basis of future industries that co-exist with nature”.