The Martuwarra (Fitzroy) River system winds its way through Western Australia’s Kimberley region, along deep troughs and shallow rivulets, nourishing a complex and finely tuned ecosystem as well as the culture and cosmology of the local traditional owners.
The river is fed by 20 tributaries and flows through three shires across the lands of seven different Indigenous nations, before emptying into the Indian Ocean at King Sound.
For Dr Anne Poelina, a Nyikina Warrwa Indigenous academic and researcher who advocates to protect the river, the Martuwarra is home, and a living ancestor.
“It’s the construction of our whole identity,” Poelina says. “It’s the river of life.”
Last Tuesday, the Western Australian State Government closed the public submission period for decision-making on the Martuwarra’s hydrological future.
The submissions were canvassed in response to the State Government’s November 2020 paper, Managing Water in the Fitzroy River Catchment, that outlined its proposals for the future of the river system. While the proposal ruled out aboveground damming, it advocated taking groundwater from underground aquifers in the system.
Some have expressed fears that under the auspices of government, and pushed by bastions of industry, the river could go the way of the Murray-Darling Basin, drained of water and lifeblood thanks to overzealous irrigation practices.