By Connie Savage
Conversations at Woodford Folk Festival turned solemn when Dr Anne Poelina and Dr Barry Traill discussed the challenges of gaining long-term protection for the Kimberley Region in Western Australia.
Despite enormous conservation gains over the past decade in the region, it is a place still familiar with detrimental development proposals.
Traditional land owners and conservationists are concerned the cultural and environmental values of the 733-kilometre-long Fitzroy River and its catchment holds are under threat.
One proposal concerning communities is a massive dam and irrigation system. This plan includes the clearing of land and the taking of billions of litres of water from the river.
Nyikina Warrwa Traditional Custodian and Chair Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, Dr Anne Poelina, said this plan could become a nightmare for everyone.
“We need to learn from what happened with the Murray Darling basin,” Dr Poelina said.
“The river belongs to all of us. As global citizens, we have a duty of care to protect this globally unique river system.”
Dr Poelina said the future of the Fitzroy River needs to be treated with collective wisdom to ensure any development is sustainable, with environmental and cultural values put first.
“The law is in the land,” she said.
“We are not above nature. We need to develop an Earth-centred governance model. We are pro-development when it cares for the Earth, nature and people.
“The traditional ecology knowledge, or Indigenous science, needs to be at the forefront. We have a wisdom that’s ready to be shared with the world.
“As a traditional owner, custodian and guardian, I will protect that rivers right to life.”
Leading Australian environmental advocate and Director of Pew Charitable Trusts, Dr Barry Traill, said although a large portion of the area has been listed as a National Heritage site since 2011, he wants it listed as a World Heritage site for further protection.
“The great stretch of grass and trees in the monsoon climate is just as beautiful and diverse as the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.
“Being the last area invaded and settled by Europeans, the region has a relatively light touch of colonization.
“We live on a very crowded planet. Where are other places you could walk for weeks or drive for days and see no industrialized landscape?”
For more information on the ongoing Kimberley Region and Fitzroy River campaigns visit www.likenowhereelse.org.au