National Reconciliation Week is a time for change

Editorial | 2 June 2021

National Reconciliation Week is a time to not only reflect but to create meaningful change

To be attributed to Phil Duncan, NRAR board member and proud Gomeroi man.

Water is central to our cultural way of life as Aboriginal Australians. Our involvement in managing water is rooted in history, embedded in our veins and passed down from generation to generation.

I recall my grandfather telling me that he wouldn’t go into a river or waterway with body paint on him after a meal or ceremony for fear of upsetting the ecological cycle.

When we harvested food from the supply and gathered resources such as reeds for weaving, fish for eating and water for our everyday use, we had to manage it. We had to make sure the water was of quality and the connectivity in ensuring the aquatic habitat was one that sustained native fish populations.

Aboriginal communities have an intrinsic understanding of water management and bring significant value to conversations about water management and regulation.

This is why I am so profoundly grateful to sit on the board at the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) and have the opportunity to be involved in decisions about water regulation.

This year's National Reconciliation Week theme is ‘More than a word’, which acknowledges that achieving real reconciliation requires meaningful action. It’s a commitment we should all be accountable for, as individuals, communities, families, organisations and as a nation.

We need to acknowledge the past, respect the future and take action to be better together.

I am proud to say NRAR, the NSW water regulator, is committed to protecting and prioritising Aboriginal cultural and spiritual values in water regulation through its new regulatory priorities which will be released in the coming months.

I’m also proud to lead NRAR’s Aboriginal Support Network (ASN), a community which is helping my Aboriginal colleagues to fulfil their leadership potential.

I am certain the ASN will help NRAR better connect with Aboriginal communities. It provides a platform for us to provide sound advice through a different cultural lens. What I am seeing is greater support for Aboriginal staff to wear their Aboriginality with pride.

But we still have more work to do.

In order to drive real, meaningful and lasting change, we need to bring everyone to the table. We need to leave our preconceived perceptions at the door and consider our next generations and the legacy we choose to leave for them.

We must leave a solid foundation for them to continue the work to keep us moving forward together and ensure that opportunities exist for all Australians, including those who inhabited this land long before colonisation.

We need to be included in all stakeholder engagements for the protection of this precious resource. Our values are not dissimilar to yours.

We must set up a safe environment for people to come together to have the courageous, bold and robust conversations that will take us forward into being better together. One of the fundamental pillars of that is respect.

(This opinion editorial originally featured in the Koori Mail on 2 June 2021).

About Phil Duncan: Phil Duncan is NRAR’s first Aboriginal board member who has extensive experience in water management. He has dedicated his career to encouraging recognition of the rich cultural history of Indigenous Australia, the return of lands, the improvement of living conditions and education of the next generation.

About NRAR: NRAR was established in 2018 under the Natural Resources Access Regulator Act 2017 to be an independent, transparent and effective water regulator with total responsibility for the compliance and enforcement of water laws in NSW.

Phil Duncan looks out over Gwydir River in MoreePhil Duncan looks out over Gwydir River in Moree.