Southward movement of water - the water ways

PhD Thesis

Kerwin, Dale Wayne. 2020. Southward movement of water - the water ways. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

Southward movement of water - the water ways

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorKerwin, Dale Wayne
SupervisorConnors, Libby
Bunda, Tracey
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages268
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

This thesis explores the acculturation of the Australian landscape by the First Nations people of Australia who named it, mapped it and used tangible and intangible material property in designing their laws and lore to manage the environment. This is taught through song, dance, stories, and paintings. Through the tangible and intangible knowledge there is acknowledgement of the First Nations people’s knowledge of the water flows and rivers from Carpentaria to Goolwa in South Australia as a cultural continuum and passed onto younger generations by Elders. This knowledge is remembered as storyways, songlines and trade routes along the waterways; these are mapped as a narrative through illustrations on scarred trees, the body, engravings on rocks, or earth geographical markers such as hills and physical features, and other natural features of flora and fauna in the First Nations cultural memory. The thesis also engages in a dialogical discourse about the paradigm of 'ecological arrogance' in Australian law for water and environmental management policies, whereby Aqua Nullius, Environmental Nullius and Economic Nullius is written into Australian laws. It further outlines how the anthropocentric value of nature as a resource and the accompanying humanistic technology provide what modern humans believe is the tool for managing ecosystems. In response, today there is a coming together of the First Nations people and the new Australians in a shared histories perspective, to highlight and ensure the protection of natural values to land and waterways which this thesis also explores.

As a Worimi man I have been part of this community coming together of Australians which recognises the First Nations people’s cultural obligations to water and land. This has also extended to the legal theatre where Aboriginal jurisprudence is slowly being recognised in land Rights and Native Title. Hence it is like the Lore for the Kadaitcha man and the Illapurinja (female Kadaitcha) pointing the bone at Australian common law for recognition of the First Nations people being in country and our beliefs for water. Australian law is awash with policy that favours the government and not the community; as a Worimi man I have been part of an Indigenous community thirsty for transformation of this bad policy.

From my perspective as a Worimi man, despite the Australian historical record, popular culture and government acknowledgement of Aboriginal acculturation over many years, Aboriginal ownership of Australia's largest river system is not appropriately respected. This thesis surveys this evidence and compares it with non-Indigenous knowledge, governance and management. This thesis argues that there needs to be a more equitable footing in Australian law, whereby the First Nations laws (Earth-centred laws), of spiritual, religious and cultural beliefs about water, the natural environment, native title and cultural heritage are respected and valued. This is a movement for the First Nations to be engaged as equal partners for water, cultural heritage, and environmental legislation. Only in this way can cultural practices and knowledge of the waterways be passed on to future generations and so continue the First Nations’ obligation to protect the Mother (Earth) for the betterment of all earthly creatures.

The thesis, can therefore be understood as a contribution to the field of Indigenous Cultural Studies. The thesis concludes that unless Aboriginal people are allowed equal participation in managing the Murray-Darling Rivers then ecological arrogance will continue to dominate to the detriment of the rivers and my people.

KeywordsFirst Nations laws; Earth­centred laws; spiritual beliefs; religious beliefs; water; natural environment, cultural heritage
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020430205. Heritage and cultural conservation
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Humanities and Communication
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