For the first time in the State’s history, Traditional Owners in Victoria have been allocated water ownership in a river system.

In recognising the Gunaikurnai people’s connection to water, Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville has granted two gigalitres of Mitchell River water to Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC).

The General Manager on Country at GLaWAC, Daniel Miller, said the decision is a significant step for the Gunaikurnai people.

“It’s a really fantastic outcome and is due recognition as Traditional Owners of much of Gippsland. It’s a really momentous occasion,” Miller told NIT.

“The Guinaikurnai people should be really proud of this outcome and we recognise the role the State has had in reaching this determination.”

Miller said gaining water ownership will assist in restoring customary practices and healing Country.

“What this water allocation does, is it gives the Gunaikurnai people choice in practicing culture and it gives choice to have control over what was always a Gunaikurnai resource.”

“The priority is the principle of having the water allocation and using it for customary purposes and for healing Country and for healing people.

“How it’s practiced is yet to be determined.”

The water ownership announcement comes ten years after Gunaikurnai Native Title was recognised over the majority of Gippsland and the first Traditional Owner Settlement Agreement issued by the Victorian Government was entered into.

“It was a long time to wait. But I think that we’re really grateful for the progress [the Victorian Government] have made … the example they’re making … and the confidence they have in Gunaikurnai people to continue to be a strong partner with State Government,” said Miller.

“Whilst it has been a long time, there’s been a lot of work done in that time to get us to this point.”

Minister Neville said Victorian water corporation Southern Rural Water will make a further four gigalitres of water available to the market.

“We are proud to be part of this landmark opportunity to work together to help Traditional Owners achieve their objectives for access to water in Victoria,” said the Managing Director of Southern Rural Water, Cameron FitzGerald.

Recognising Traditional Owners’ value and connection to water is a key part of Water for Victoria, the Andrews Government’s long-term strategy for managing the State’s water resources. This strategy identifies the need to reassess the boundaries of existing sustainable water strategies.

The next Sustainable Water Strategy for the Central and Gippsland Region will consider how water is shared to provide for agriculture, communities, the environment towns and business use.

“I want to see the water sector and Traditional Owners working closely together, with water entitlements supporting business, cultural, recreational and environmental outcomes for Aboriginal communities and the broader region,” said Minister Neville.

Miller said Traditional Owners will have a stronger voice in the next Sustainable Water Strategy to capture important values around water.

“Through a project that’s been initiated and funded through DELWP (The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning), we have several Aboriginal water officers who … have been working for the last three years or so, to better facilitate the capture of values around water,” he said.

“And that’s … trying to bring as many community members as we can into the project to grow an environment … to better inform how we approach this kind of work with our licensees in the future and on things like the sustainable water strategies.”

By Grace Crivellaro