In October I embarked on a journey to the Murray Darling rivers for a cultural and spiritual Water Ceremony meeting Murray Darling Dreamtime Weavers Aunty’s Clair and Jennifer Bates, their family and Aunty Glenda Nicholls in Wentworth NSW.
We set off on a two day journey on a houseboat with the Elders and a group of women to witness first hand the spiritual impact that the devastation of the Darling River is having on the Bates family and their community.
We listened, we watched, we walked, weaved and learned about the fibres used from the river beds. The river is such a magical wonderland for the bird life and her spirit was strong even though she's hurting.
The ceremony was held on a site where we moored the River Gum for the night.
A fire was lit, traditional dancing was taught and wreaths were sent into the river with prayer and water brought from all directions to let the river know she was loved and acknowledgment was made that healing was needed.
Barkandji Maliangappi Elder and Master Weaver Aunty Clair Bates and her sister Jennifer were born in Wilcannia and grew up on the mission.
Their people are originally from Mutawintji and as we traveled up the beautiful Darling River we heard more of the Bates family connection to country.
Aunty Clair Bates shared her connection to country and sadness for the health of the river and water life.
She also has hope that more women to come out from closed doors to learn culture to strengthen themselves from family violence.
She says it’s important to get back to learning about the land, our spirit ancestors and keeping culture alive.
As we traveled up the Darling River Aunty Glenda speaks fondly on how she was taught from her Grandmother and Mother to make feather flowers and designed woven nets from dreams sent to her from her ancestors and the river.
Aunty Glenda has written her speech delivered at the ceremony.
My name is Jule Yarra Minj (Little river Girl) and I recognise my Yorta Yorta, Wadi Wadi and Ngarrindjeri descendants. – Glenda Nicholls
This is the talk I prepared for our water ceremony on the Darling River. I presented a bowl to the traditional owners present – Clair and Jenny Bates of the Barkindj people and this vessel was filled with water that was brought by the ladies from across Victoria and South Australia as an offering to the Darling River.
My presentation reads –
Mother Earth needs water. Water is its life blood. We all need water for our individual health, community health and wellbeing, sustainability as well as for ecological integrity and function.
Water is provided by Mother Earth, and mothers create children in water (amniotic fluid). Water is sacred and must be care for, because without mothers and the water provided by Mother Earth we would not exist.
As women custodians of today we would like to give back to the River, the Darling, in its sadness and offer water brought from our homeplaces.
I would like to ask Clair and Jen to hold the vessel which we will all offer up our water that we have all brought with us.
Then afterwards Clair and Jen will give the water to the Darling. After that we can all offer the rest of our water and our wreaths that we have personally made.
On the day of the ceremony you could feel the sadness of the river and see the erosion and impacts on the darling, the following day the sun was shining and it was almost like the river was singing. It was like she heard and felt the ceremony and knew that we were there. It was a very spiritual and humbling experience.
The connections made with the women and the Darling River will last a life time.
In 2017 Ken Matthews handed down the final report into the Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance.
The investigation was set up to address monitoring on water for agriculture and irrigation in the spotlight after the screening of the ABC Four Corners episode of Pumped: Who's benefiting from the billions spent on the Murray-Darling?
The program sparked the investigation after allegations of the illegal take of water used for irrigation in NSW was not compliant with the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Water that was being pumped from the Murray Darling Basin for agriculture.
The cries for help have been coming for a long time for something to change about the rapid way that the health and well being of the Murray Darling basin declined from agriculture and irrigation.
Aboriginal families from many areas along the river systems have been concerned about the future of their rivers since the early settlers came and the damming of the Murray River.