The importance of Gayini (Nari Nari word for water) and land to First Nations people across the Murray-Darling Basin was a feature presentation in this week’s River reflections annual water conference in Griffith, New South Wales.
First Nations MDBA Authority member Rene Woods, who was appointed to the Authority late last year, shared his insights on the importance of learning and understanding from First Nations people and their Gayini (water) requirements, including the 65,000 years of management of these resources.
“Water is an intrinsic part of the Cultural and spiritual identity of First Nations people and we are working towards an increased role for First Nations people to manage and plan for water operations,” Mr Woods said.
“I have seen firsthand how managing Country for conservation, sustainable agriculture and Indigenous heritage works well.
“I have been involved with the Nature Conservancy Australia program at Gayini Nimmie-Caira in southern New South Wales where we have seen endangered birds and animals return to the landscape that is now thriving under First Nations custodianship.
“It’s been a collaborative project drawing on the traditional knowledge of the Nari Nari people and expertise from other organisations.
“There have been both cultural and environmental benefits through this work which is really exciting.”
Mr Woods said there had been research with The National Cultural Flows Research Project at Gooraman Swamp in the Northern Basin.
“It’s a highly significant area for The First Nations mob that shows where the connectivity of ground and surface water is very important to First Nations people,” he said.
“Getting back to Country and improving its health has meant more healthy people.
“We are also looking for opportunities to increase the participation of women in the First Nations space as women hold a lot of knowledge around water.”
Hosted by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the inaugural River reflections conference is taking place in Griffith, New South Wales on Wednesday, 9 June and Thursday, 10 June 2021. It provides the space and time for the diverse communities and industries of the Murray-Darling Basin to come together to share innovations in water management, knowledge and lessons learned while celebrating achievements.
The conference has sold out with 130 delegates attending in person, with more joining online.
Rene Woods is a Nari Nari man from southwest New South Wales. He has had a long involvement in Gayini (water) for Aboriginal people across the Basin.
Mr Woods is the first person to be appointed to the permanent First Nations Authority Member board position, a role he took up in late 2020.
Mr Woods is a strong advocate for First Nations people in the Basin and has worked in communities in both the public and non-government organisation sectors of the Basin. He is currently employed by the Nature Conservancy Australia as a Conservation Officer and has seen what can happen for communities that have Gayini and land under their ownership and control. He believes that together we can achieve a strong healthy river system and healthier communities.
He previously held the position of chairperson of the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations. He has also been vice-chair of the Nari Nari Tribal Council. He has also held several other positions including with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries Aboriginal Water Initiative and Murrumbidgee Valley Water NSW Customer Advisory Group. Rene was also a member of the National Cultural Flows Research Committee and Independent Panel for the Assessment of Social and Economic Conditions of Murray-Darling Basin communities.