We're aware of the dire water situation on this continent brought about by the climate emergency and heightened by water mismanagement and corrupt practices. We've heard about the fish dying in the Darling, the complete loss of water suitable for human consumption or use in towns like Wilcannia and Walgett, in western NSW; and the devastating effects this has had on health and wellbeing of communities and environment. We've heard about the water crisis in Johannesburg and Cape Town in south Africa or in Chennai, India.
Water has been and will continue to be one of the most serious issues we face here and worldwide. Furthermore, a permanent change in our relationship to water is central to questions of reconciliation and justice for Indigenous peoples. Such change cannot be abstract or technical or political - it requires a profound change in the way we relate to water.
We need a conscious shift away from the destructive assumption that water is a self-replenishing, infinite commodity - one that exists solely for our use and gain, something we have a right to buy and sell, dam and pollute.
Instead we should move towards a perception of water as a carrier of spirit, culture, story and memory, a healer and sustainer of life in all forms, an autonomous being with identity and rights. We wouldn't be the first to make this shift, it is already taking place.
Rivers, the Whanganui in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, have been granted human rights. Affording rights of personhood to something other than human beings is not new. Corporations are routinely granted the same rights as people.
What should be thought-provoking is that the living ecosystems we depend on for our survival are not granted such status.
The oldest, most successful form of environmental custodianship on the planet: the oldest most sustainable forms of agriculture, aquaculture, animal husbandry, manufacture, architecture and further ecologically sound technologies have been practiced here for thousands of years.
Our focus is on water - not as a commodity we can buy or licence, dam and pollute, but as a carrier of spirit, culture, story, a sustainer of life in all formsIris Curteis
First Nation Elders from across this continent will come together September 19 - 22 at Yarrawarra Cultural Centre, Corindi Beach, to speak of their relationships to water - how they hold and care for a 'rain dreaming', what it means to be a custodians of the ancient waters of artesian basins, how their connection to the Murray Darling flows so deeply that they hold ceremony, travelling from its source to the Coorong to care for the spirit of this mighty river, to speak of what it means to sing the whales, to care for the oceans - for these are their dreamings.
Gumbaynggirr Elders coming include Aunty Bea Ballangarry, Micklo Jarrett, Martin Ballangarry, Aunty Angela Brown, and others.
Some of the visiting Elders are Cheryl Buchanan a Guwama (Kooma) Elder who was also the first Australian indigenous publisher, an acclaimed playwright, author, activist and more (her family refer to Cheryl as 'educator'). Uncle Moogy Major Sumner is a Ngarrindjerri Elder, medicine man, cultural performer and artist instrumental in reawakening Ringbalin ceremony along the Murray-Darling basin.
Uncle Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves is a Walpuri Law Man, who carries the Rain Dreaming, Uncle Kev Buzzacott from the Arabunna Nation, a custodian of Lake Eyre, Ghillar Michael Anderson, a senior Euahlayi Law Man who will speak about water ownership across Australia, Dale Kerwin, a Worimi Custodian and academic whose doctoral thesis focused on Aqua Nullius ... the list goes on.
This is ancient and living knowledge. It is also something we all hold in common; our body is made of up to 90 per cent water; water is a symbol of grace and central to creation mythologies, cosmologies and religious or sacred ritual of almost every culture known to humankind.
As a storyteller I know many stories of sacred wells, tarns, flows or springs where help and wisdom can be found, aliments cured, sanity restored, and peace made.
So, whether you are an environmental activist, educator, farmer, artist, working in healthcare, social work, law, economy, a pensioner, secretary, academic ... water connects us all.
Water Yarning - Tidings, Flows and Sorrows, 19 - 22 September on Gumbaynggirr Country at the Yarrawarra Cultural Centre (Corindi Beach) https://heartwoodsiteworks.com.au/water-yarning/