The Fitzroy River

THE MIGHTY FITZROY

The Fitzroy is Western Australia’s largest river, stretching over 700km from the East Kimberley to the coast at King Sound. It has been National Heritage-listed for its outstanding cultural values.

The Fitzroy River supports a huge array of wildlife, including 18 species of fish found nowhere else in the world.  It is a critical breeding ground and nursery for the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish.

Life on the River is unpredictable. When it rains, floods bring wetlands to life and restore the River. Between floods the River often stops flowing and animals hang on in permanent pools fed by underground water. In some years there are big floods, in other years there is almost no rain.

All river species rely on the permanent pools as well as the floods. Species such as Barramundi and Cherabin are subsistence foods for local people, and an essential part of the renowned recreational fishing experience.

The Fitzroy River flows out to the Kimberley Coast, the world’s most pristine tropical coastline.  A healthy River is essential for a healthy coast.

Indigenous people have lived along the Fitzroy for tens of thousands of years. The National Heritage listing celebrates the cultural value of the 'River of Life', with its four joined but distinct traditions of the Rainbow Serpent.

Danggu Geikie Gorge was carved by the Fitzroy River through part of an ancient limestone barrier reef which snakes across the west Kimberley (Image: Adam Monk)

A RIVER UNDER THREAT

Proposals for dams and massive irrigated agriculture projects threaten to tip the balance on the Fitzroy River, as we have seen happen in the Murray Darling Basin.

Irrigation projects to take water from the Fitzroy River include 325 GL from Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Agriculture and 50 - 200 GL from the Harris family, who are Murray-Darling cotton farmers. In comparison, the whole of Perth and Southwest WA uses just over 200 GL of water each year.

Water would be extracted from the River and tributaries through pumps, channels, leaky weirs and stored in ring tanks and dams on the floodplains.

Multiple fish kills have occurred on the Fitzroy River in the one location where pumping of between 1 and 2 GL of water for irrigation occurs. In 2018, 46 endangered sawfish died upstream from irrigation infrastructure on Liveringa Station.

In a historical move, Traditional Owners from the Fitzroy Valley formed the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council in 2018 in response to growing concerns over water extraction proposals from the River.

Camballin barrage is the only existing barrier on the Fitzroy - remnants from a 1960s irrigation scheme that failed due to unreliable water supply, flood damage, pests & weeds. It is a considerable barrier to fish migrations.

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