The three-day ‘working together for better drinking water for bush communities’ forum was held in Alice Springs on 27–29 June 2023, to identify solutions to water security challenges in First Nations remote communities, homelands and outstations nationally.
The forum was delivered by the Goyder Institute in partnership with the Australian Government through the National Water Grid Authority (NWGA) and with Desert Knowledge Australia (DKA).
The Australian Government recently announced funding of $150 million through the NWGA to support First Nations water infrastructure and provide safe, secure and reliable water for remote and regional Indigenous communities across Australia.
This funding recognises the significance of the national conversation and extensive research on this topic over an extended time, and the pressing need for change – communities should be able to live on Country and have access to safe, reliable water and essential services. The forum represented the first collective conversation, bringing together representatives across jurisdictions to jointly identify pathways for action to address remote drinking water security.
At the forum, representatives from First Nations communities, Land Councils, local government organisations, water and health service providers, and government agencies across Australia came together to build a shared understanding and identify challenges, solutions and enabling actions to improve water security, quality and supply in remote communities.
• brought together First Nations representatives and national stakeholders involved in understanding and addressing remote water security
• equitably discussed the challenges of water delivery to remote communities and jointly identified pathways and actions to address these challenges
• listened to on-ground lived experiences and aspirations of First Nations remote communities
• heard about the current situations of different states and territories regarding water delivery to remote communities
• identified high-level solutions to drinking water challenges, enabling actions and next steps to implement solutions and working towards a shared vision.
First Nations representatives shared their lived experience at the forum through knowledge sharing at the Desert Knowledge Precinct on the outskirts of Mparntwe (Alice Springs).
The location is of significant cultural importance as it occupies the space where, in the past, travelling Aboriginal groups or messengers would stop and light smoke signals as a way of requesting passage through Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe). At this location, Elders or other group members from Mparntwe would meet the travellers and hear their stories. The Desert Knowledge Precinct embodies the essence of the land on which it stands, promoting knowledge sharing in a place where everyone is welcome. The venue is co-managed by forum partner DKA which has a 20-year history of working with the people, communities, and organisations of Central Australia to connect people, knowledge, and opportunities.
The forum was also an opportunity to increase inter-jurisdictional connections, capability, and capacity to address shared challenges in the future. It has also increased opportunities to engage First Nations representatives in decision-making and future actions that involve and affect their communities, their wellbeing, and cultural values.
The Goyder Institute is currently synthesising the forum outcomes to support Australian Government work to improve water access and quality within remote communities.
Contact Goyder Institute Interim Director Dr Alec Rolston for more information.