A Ngarrindjeri-led research project is connecting mob to the spirituality of water and puts them at the forefront of managing the Coorong River in South Australia.

The Ngarrindjeri Nation are the Traditional Owners of a respected Aboriginal heritage site along the Murray-Darling Basin called ‘Meeting of the Waters’. The Ngarrindjeri Research Project will deep dive into topics impacting their community like fresh water supply, fish and pelicans.

Proud Ngarrindjeri man and CEO of Ngarrindjeri Aboriginal Corporation (NAC), Tim Hartman, said this project will help the broader community understand how a healthy river system goes hand-in-hand with the wellbeing of community.

“[The] project allows Ngarrindjeri to actively take a leadership role to speak on behalf of Yarluwar-Ruwe (Lands and Waters) and the ongoing management of the Coorong,” Hartman said.

The NAC teamed up with the State Government’s Department for Environment and Water to make a database that is solely owned by Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners and can be shared with future generations.

This project is part of the SA Government’s $70 million Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin initiative.

Manager of the Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin initiative Angus MacGregor said the research aims to pay respects to Ngarrindjeri knowledge and apply the data to site decision-making.

“A deeper and documented understanding of the knowledge and cultural values of Ngarrindjeri for specific case-studies will allow new management interventions focused on restoring the ecological character of the Coorong to consider these values,” MacGregor said.

Ngarrindjeri Traditional Owners are part of an advocacy group called Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN). They work with 25 First Nations groups to protect Indigenous water rights in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The MLDRIN says the river system is an essential part of Aboriginal culture because the land, waters and people are interconnected. Each has a domino effect on the other and for the people to be healthy, the land has to be.

Ngarrindjeri Country covers the Coorong, Lower Lakes, and Murray Mouth. In Ngarrindjeri culture, the sacred Coorong is called Kurangk, which means ‘long narrow neck’.

Hartman said cultural knowledge needs to be equally valued alongside western science in the decision-making processes for the Coorong.

“When advocating for issues which affect Country, we can use the information from our research to advocate stronger,” Hartman said.

“As State and Commonwealth Governments look at water availability, like draining water from the River Murray into the Coorong, we can be incorporated in management.”

The Ngarrindjeri people are yet to decide what data will be available to the public. Hartman said they will speak with Elders and refer to Aboriginal lore to make the decision.

The project will run until the end of June 2022.

By Britney Coulson