Lama Lama for the long-term
BlogLama Lama for the long-term

The Lama Lama people are the traditional owners for lands extending several hundred kilometres in Far North Queensland - from the plains at the foothills of the Great Dividing Range, to the breathtaking coastline of Cape York Peninsula, through to the islands north of pristine Princess Charlotte Bay.

Cyclone Larry’s 2006 landfall destroyed the original clean water access, and the community could only extract untreated water from the Port Stewart River via a diesel pump. This was hugely problematic. Each year during the dry season, as water levels fell below the bed sand, an improvised pond was excavated in the river bed to ensure water could continue to be pumped. This arrangement was prone to contamination, and presented risks to the safety and reliability of water supply, and the health of the community.

After struggling with water issues for nearly a decade, and with numerous stop-starts and visits by experts who presented reports (but little action), the local Yintingga Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) and the Centre for Appropriate Technology (CfAT) reached out to EWB Australia to help coordinate a solution. Enter Arup, a firm of engineering specialists with a social value focus, who offered critical pro-bono water engineering expertise. It created a truly collaborative ‘dream team’ to affect real change.

Designing for such an isolated community presented a variety of challenges and required innovative thinking. With extreme weather conditions in the region, the design had to be resilient against bushfires, extreme heat, cyclones and flooding, as well as remain accessible during the wet season when the river floods and crocodiles inhabited the river. Other local constraints included a lack of access to electricity, and, as future maintenance was to be undertaken by the local residents, the design needed to be suitable for a non-technical community.

Priyani Madan, Water Engineer from Arup, was the Lead on the project. In assessing the best options, Priyani sought advice from expert engineers at Arup, as well as undertook her own research, consulting with other remote Indigenous community water supply operators.

“Finding an appropriate technology was my biggest challenge. It’s astounding how this small project has taught me how different engineering and appropriate technology engineering are. They have similar principles and technologies, but appropriate technology has so many more constraints and there’s so much more to think about,” says Priyani.

The final design was constructed in 2017 and comprised a new non-vertical bore intake abstracting water from below the bed sands of the Port Stewart river - utilising solar powered and submersible bore pumps with a backup diesel generator. A low maintenance aeration filtration system was incorporated to remove the high iron concentrations and interconnections with the existing elevated reservoirs and distribution system.


Leveraging close to $500,000 of funds and pro-bono engineering support, a robust, sustainable, fully costed long term solution was delivered. It’s cyclone-proof credentials have since been tested - surviving two cyclones, and a wet season that saw unprecedented flooding, something not seen in decades.

“We now have…. something everyone else in Australia takes for granted - a reliable water supply,” says Gavin Bassani, Operations Manager of the Yintingga Aboriginal Corporation.

Our partnership with the Lama Lama community continues. Under the Aboriginal Land Act, the Lama Lama people have been granted freehold title over almost all of their traditional lands, and now has one of the most successful and longest running Indigenous Ranger Programs on Cape York. The program, which engages young Indigenous trainees, is grounded in a profound love of country and a deep sense of satisfaction to be finally back on their homelands, restoring land that has been home to Lama Lama ancestors for tens of thousands of years. It has resulted in the creation of meaningful employment and life satisfaction. The wellbeing of families and health outcomes has been improved.

The aspiration of the Lama Lama community is a future of progress, continued planning and development, and a brand new project is now under development to further this aim.

EWB Australia’s next focus will be to further assist with a range of remote infrastructure needs, including campgrounds, renewable energy supply and airstrip designs - key elements in the community’s vision to become Australia’s first solely Indigenous-run National Park.

EWB Australia’s end-of-financial year appeal continues our focus on our commitment to Engineering On Country, and will focus funding to this new project with the Lama Lama community and others in Cape York. Support our commitment here.

- with The Guardian