Gill Boehringer, an honorary senior research fellow at Macquarie University, has been studying the Murray-Darling Basin crisis.
He believes the New South Wales government’s reluctance to assist Indigenous communities affected by the river crisis is connected to “historic relations of dispossession, discrimination and exploitation” of First Nations peoples.
“Like their brothers and sisters elsewhere in Australia, they are not understood and therefore not appreciated,'' Boehringer told Green Left Weekly. “Their culture, traditions and special knowledge are not given the respect they deserve, especially their historically proven ability to successfully exercise custodianship of the rivers.”
Boehringer believes we have all suffered a “tragic loss” because European settler society “has proved incapable of exercising anything like the Aboriginal custodianship of nature.”
This can only be solved in the longer term by “a massive effort to end the racism and dismissive attitude toward the Aboriginal people and their traditional knowledge”.
A bigger focus on ecosystems and their complex processes is also needed.
“The anthropocentric culture of Australian society, historically pervasive in schools and university curricula, and reflected and reinforced by the media and the underlying economic development obsession of growth at any price, has led us to see nature as something separate from us, essentially as a resource to be utilised, even destroyed, where profit beckons.
“As with the rivers and forests, such a culture has nearly brought us undone.
“Thus, in addition to short term ‘solutions’ we need to be looking at the long term — to develop a society much more aware of the symbiotic relationship we have, necessarily, with nature, and how that society will greatly benefit in so many ways.”
In this endeavour, the traditional knowledge of First Nations people, who have co-existed with the Earth for hundreds of thousands of years, will be invaluable.