Traditional owners unite to protect Fitzroy River

Banding together in Fitzroy Crossing.

Traditional owners have reacted to increasing development pressure by pledging to work together to protect and manage the Fitzroy River and its tributaries in the Kimberley.

During a two-day meeting in Fitzroy Crossing, traditional owners agreed on a Fitzroy River Declaration, which aims to protect the traditional and environmental values that underpin the river’s National Heritage listing.

The historic declaration identifies eight key steps that traditional owners agree are needed to protect and manage the Fitzroy River, including a buffer zone for development, a joint position on fracking, development of a Fitzroy River management plan complemented by an Indigenous Protected Area and a management body for the river.

Walmajarri traditional owner Anthony McLarty said the declaration addressed concerns about extensive development proposals for the river and its catchment.

“We know that there are pressures from industry and government to access and use the Fitzroy River, and these pressures have the ability to impact on its many cultural and environmental values,” Mr McLarty said.

“We are also concerned that the cumulative impacts of development along the river will not be managed or considered appropriately by the WA Government.

“The Fitzroy River is one living system. The river gives life and has a right to life, and we are determined to protect it for current and future generations.”

Bunuba traditional owner Keith Bedford said the declaration demonstrated that native title rights were central to the ongoing management and protection of the entire Fitzroy catchment.

“As native title holders and claimants, Kimberley Aboriginal people respect each other’s autonomy, but we are also committed to working together to better manage and look after the river system,” Mr Bedford said.

Nyikina Mangala traditional owner Anne Poelina said the Fitzroy River Declaration sent a clear message to government and industry that traditional owners were prepared to stand together for the future of the river.

“We want to see the Fitzroy River and catchment protected all the way from its head to its tail, and we will work together to make sure there are strong measures in place that achieve this goal,” Dr Poelina said.

“We invite industry, government, and other stakeholders to work with us in achieving this outcome.”

In 2011, the Fitzroy River catchment was added to the National Heritage estate.

The river is also listed as a heritage site under the WA Aboriginal Heritage Act.

Backers of the Fitzroy River Declaration said it set a national standard for native title rights and the role of traditional owners as being fundamental to the management of the environment and informed decision making about development.

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