Were back and inspired

Eight EWB volunteers have recently retuned from an amazing two week trip travelling through the Murray Darling Basin.  Along the way we spent time with Aboriginal people and other stakeholders in the Basin learning about water and land management. Please read on to hear more about our aims and inspiring moments.

Eight Engineers Without Borders (EWB) volunteers have retuned from an amazing two week trip travelling through the Murray Darling Basin as part of the Dialogues on Country (DOC) study tour.  Along the way we spent time with Aboriginal people and other stakeholders in the Basin learning about water and land management.  The aims of the DOC are to:

  • Create positive change in the engineering profession through promoting a dialogue between professionals in the water industry and Aboriginal communities within the Murray Darling Basin.
  • Gain an understanding of Aboriginal knowledge and values of land and water management in the Murray Darling Basin.
  • Determine ways to apply this knowledge to create better practices, management and policy around land and water managment.


The team knew our plans needed to be flexible but we were certainly tested on that front from the word go. Due to heavy rains many of the roads the way were impassable.  However, for every changed plan we were rewarded with wonderful and unexpected alternatives.  We were also overwhelmed with the generosity of spirit in which people welcomed us and shared their knowledge and stories. 

Our top ten highlights include:

1. Uncle Dave, a Kooma (Gwanu) elder, shared his passion and action plan for social justice as he took us into his home for the night when the rain prevented us travelling on through Cunnamulla in Qld.  He also took us to see our first fish barrier for some advice about how to deal with a huge weir on the Warrego River.

2.  We were welcomed with incredible generosity by Kooma (Gwanu) people to their property, Murra Murra, in South West Qld.  Ranger Geoff in particular showed us many cultural sites including grinding groves, fresh water wells, medicine trees and fish traps. He also taught us how to shoot and gut a kangaroo, shear a sheep and make emu egg omelettes.  Cheryl Buchanan (Chair of the Kooma Traditional Owners Association Inc) made a huge effort to spend time with us sharing the history and aspirations of the Kooma (Gwanu) people.  We were also made particularly welcome by the caretakers Nash, Nefertiti and their three girls who gave us insights into their lives living on country.  The importance of water to Aboriginal people really started to hit home at Murra Murra.

3. Nothing prepared us for the scale of water supply at Cubbie Station in southern Qld. Not even the descriptions from the manager of a downstream sheep station could truly paint the picture for a property that stores as much water as Sydney Harbour.  Visiting both these stations gave us wonderful insights into the economic significance of water and its ability to shape communities. We were impressed that managers of both stations took time out to show us around and share their knowledge with us.

4. Roy Barker had us mesmerised as he made his cultural keeping place in Lightening Ridge, NSW, come alive with his stories of traditional culture, life growing up on the Brewarrina mission and the effects of colonisation on his culture.

5. With all the rain we were fortunate enough to see heritage listed fish traps in action at Brewarrina, NSW.  We were lucky to meet a young family whilst we were there who were able to describe the physical structure as well as the cultural and spiritual significance that the fish traps play today.

6. Menindee Lakes were full for the fist time in many years as we sat on the banks listening to the Traditional Owner and elder, Patsy, and a National Parks ranger, Jules, talk about management challenges.

7. The importance and significants of the Murray Darling Basin was felt strongly as we stood at the confluence of the Murray and the Darling Rivers.

8. Sharing a cup of tea with the General Manager, Lesley, and the Aboriginal Communities Catchment Officer, Rhonda, of the Lower Murray Darling Catchment Management Authority gave us an opportunity to hear about how they engage with Aboriginal communities within their catchment and inspired a number of us by demonstrating that meaningful engagement can be done.

9. Discussions with consultants at GHD in Mildurea showed us some of the practicalities of engaging with aboriginal people on engineering projects.  For the consulting engineers in the group this was a great way to start thinking about how to bring the lessons learnt on the trip back to their work place.

10. We were inspired by the Ngarrindjeri leaders at Camp Coorong. Here Uncle Tom Trevorrow shared the Ngarrindjeri people’s vision for race relations. Whilst staying at Camp Coorong we leant much about Ngarrindjeri’s peoples knowledge, values and vision through stories, bush walks, tours and open discussions.  We heard from others too such as Uncle Matt Rigney about cultural flows and politics, and Uncle George Trevorrow about partnerships and community structure.  We also got a glimpse into the battle the Ngarrindjeri woman have been fighting around education and culture as we learnt a traditional weaving technique.

11. Our incredible journey had a fitting closure with Ngarrindjeri man, Major Sumner, calling for the ancestral spirits to bless us on our journey and clearing our spirits through a smoking ceremony.

It’s impossible to put the personal journey that each participant experienced as we travelled through the Murray Darling Basin into a small newsletter with highlights such as this.  We’ve tried to capture the lessons we learnt, the emotions we felt, and the important stories we heard in postcards that we sent home. We’d love you to read them at http://www.ewb.org.au/explore/initiatives/doc/postcards.