Even at 85 year's old, Ngiyaampaa elder Dr Beryl Carmichael or Yungha-Du is still fighting for the rights of her people and country.
Carmichael has spent most of her life campaigning to re-water Menindee Lakes and to re-charge the Darling/Baaka River. She has been an inspiration for the national campaign to restore flows to the environment and hope to Indigenous communities.
Carmichael turned 85 on July 4 and the Menindee Lakes community organised a celebration to mark her leadership in the ongoing fight.
Born on the Menindee Mission in 1935, Beryl has a life-long commitment to supporting her community, lore, language and culture. “I grew up amongst the lore people.”
“Everything is connected the birds, the animals, the land, the sky, everything. We’re all spiritually connected too,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael, who served on the National Parks Advisory Council and the Western Lands Advisory Council, said: “The dwindling waters in the river is a blow to my cultural heritage; it’s the lifeblood of our nation, it flows through the Ngiyaampaa country.”
Carmichael gave the welcome to country when the Australian Peoples Tribunal inquiry into the health of the Darling River and Menindee Lakes attended Menindee early this year.
“They’re getting rarer and rarer, our native species. We need to do what we can to protect them and their habitats, otherwise we won’t have any. Soon we we’ll have to put out cardboard cut-outs of the birds and animals so our young people will know what there used to be there.”
Carmichael has also been active in Aboriginal education for more than 40 years said: “I’m concerned for the children, in the end what’s going to happen to them. I worry about the children.”
She advised the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultation Group and was an Aboriginal Language Support Officer advising the NSW Board of Studies. She was awarded the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Meritrust Award in 2004.
Carmichael’s fight for the river and wetlands continued throughout 2018–19 after the draining of the Menindee Lakes meant that communities along the Baaka ran out of clean drinking water and many fish died.
The campaign came to a head in February when Carmichael co-signed a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison with Barry Stone and Ian Sutton. “The First Nation peoples of this land have always been custodians of this water and are responsible for it under First Law. First Law dictates that water cannot be owned by anyone, as it is here for all to share.”
It went on: “Our primary demand is that water be taken off the market and water trading ended in Australia. Water is not a commodity! We also demand an immediate embargo on river diversion, flood plain harvesting and pumping of rivers by irrigators upstream. We must allow the current flood waters to fill the Menindee Lakes and to provide a proper flush for the Darling Baaka, with full connectivity all the way to the junction with the Murray.”
The letter warned that action would be taken if the government didn’t act and on March 13, a group of Indigenous women led a peaceful blockade of the Barrier Highway at Wilcannia. Police were sent and after six hours they made nine arrests. Carmichael has also played an active role in the NSW Reconciliation Council.