ANU inaugural Indigenous water forum

Presented by ANU College of Asia & the Pacific

Are Indigenous water rights the 'Mabo' issue of our generation? The ANU Indigenous Water Forum will discuss the opportunities to advance Aboriginal wellbeing and economic livelihoods through water rights with Indigenous leaders from WA, Queensland, NSW and the ACT presenting to the public.

The strong connection between Aboriginal health and wellbeing and access to water has already been highlighted by research. This forum will explore how access to water for economic purposes can improve prosperity, create jobs and business opportunities, and strengthen the financial security and independence of Indigenous communities.


Moderator & Chair: Emeritus Professor Richard Baker, Fenner School of Science and Society
Keynote: Eugene Bargo, Goreng Kabi elder
Speaker 2: Anthony Watson, Chairman, Kimberley Land Council
Speaker 3: Cheryl Buchanan, Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations
Wrap up: Dr Virginia Marshall, ANU Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow

The forum will be followed by refreshments.

The public forum follows a half-day closed roundtable with Indigenous leaders and water stakeholders discussing the future of Indigenous water rights.

About the speakers

Eugene Bargo is a proud Goreng Kabi elder whose country is Burri Burri and Nargo in Queensland. He combines a passion for his culture and a deep knowledge of traditional methods of Caring for Country which is an inspiration to many. He organises bush camps for young men to educate them about men's business and identity, about natural cycles and the bio-indicators which can help them 'read' the Country and understand how to care for it.  For decades, Eugene has walked the boundaries of his Country, and traversed the length of its rivers, on cultural business and fishing trips to where his ancestors gathered.

Eugene lives without electricity or television on a remote property he purchased on his mother's traditional country, where for over 37 years he has built up a botanical gardens and plant propagation and floristry business, specialising in native flowers and plants. National Geographic and SBS have featured him in documentaries and he is a sought after presenter. Eugene has worked from an early age, including as a stockman, trainer, rigger, professional fisherman, welfare officer, social worker, cultural advisor, educator and more.  

Anthony Watson has been a Director of the Kimberley Land Council since 1993 and Chairman since 2014; although he has been involved in the Aboriginal land rights struggle from a young age, alongside his father John Watson, a former KLC Chairman and highly-regarded elder of the land rights movement. Anthony is a Nyikina Mangala, Karajarri, Yawuru and Jabirr Jabirr man who has lived in the Kimberley all his life and is proud to be descended from a people who have endured and survived extreme hardship since colonisation. 

Anthony is proud of the hard-won success of native title judgements across the Kimberley, getting close to half the Kimberley escribed on the National Heritage List for its Cultural Values, the Indigenous Protected Areas and the Aboriginal ranger network, which he describes as 'real jobs looking after country and culture'. Anthony has spoken at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Aboriginal community closures and Closing the Gap, and at COP21 on the outstanding work Australian Aboriginal Ranger groups are doing in conservation and fire management. 

Anthony has led discussions around Constitutional reform and pushed for meaningful recognition of First Nations peoples. He has a strong focus on sustainable economic development in the Kimberley that respects culture and tradition, protects environmental values and fully engages Aboriginal people in equal partnership.  

Cheryl Buchanan is an Aboriginal rights activist, writer and publisher who was born and raised in Cunnamulla in SW Queensland as a proud member of the Guwamu nation whose traditional country is bounded by the Warrego, Balonne and Culgoa rivers, the headwaters of the Darling River. From early childhood her aunties taught her to respect the land and the rivers; to value the culture of her people and other Aboriginal Nations. 

The descriptors author, editor, speaker, business woman, political activist, teacher, lecturer and negotiator have all been applied to Cheryl Buchanan. A founding member of numerous Aboriginal organisations, including the Black Community School, Black Resource Centre, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Women's Legal and Advocacy Service, she is also a playwright with many performed works. Cheryl was on the National Indigenous Water Advisory Council and the First Peoples Water Engagement Council (both set up by the National Water Commission) and is currently a Director of Queensland Murray Darling Catchments Ltd, which among other things, runs Aboriginal Ranger programs. She is also currently a Director of the Northern Basins Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) and promotes the importance of Aboriginal traditional knowledge for protecting the cultural values, vitality and environmental health of the Murray Darling Basin. 

Virginia Marshall is a Wiradjiri Nymba woman from NSW and a leading scholar on Aboriginal water rights in Australia. Her seminal book Overturning Aqua Nullius with a foreword by renowned human rights advocate and former High Court judge, the Hon Michael Kirby, was published in 2017. Virginia is the Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow at the Australian National University, a legal educator and practicing lawyer with a passion for Indigenous rights. She specialises in water law, Intellectual Property, contracts and native title, and has worked as a Senior Legal with the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Virginia's academic work lies at the intersection of the law, regulation and science, and includes comparative analysis of Indigenous water rights regimes in the Pacific and North America to inform an Indigenous water rights framework for Australia. She researches and advocates on the impact of climate change on Indigenous peoples, is a member of the ANU Climate Change Cluster and recently represented the Pacific region at the UN Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Preparatory Meeting in Mexico City.