Lake Argyle: traditional owners recognised

Lake Argyle banner

It is 40 years since the Durack Homestead, relocated piece by piece to the southern shores of Lake Argyle near Kununurra in the Kimberley region, was opened as a museum.

The anniversary was celebrated in June 2019 when the government announced it would hand back part of the historic Durack pastoral lease in far north Western Australia to the traditional owners of the region, the Miriuwung and Gajerrong (MG) people.

Members of the community, MG Corporation and visitors met at the historic Durack Homestead on the edge of Lake Argyle, which holds painful significance for local Aboriginal people as their lands were drowned without consultation and with it their cultural heritage irreversibly changed.

Lake Argyle was formed after the construction of the Ord River Dam 55 kilometres upstream, which was completed in 1973. In 1996, the spillway from Lake Argyle was raised by six metres to improve reliability of water for hydroelectric power generation.

During the past 12 years, the region has set up a joint management committee comprised of department staff and the four MG language groups (‘Dawang’) that share cultural responsibility over the expanse of Lake Argyle.

Our Kimberley team prepared a water management plan that involved many of the elders visiting their drowned country by boat for the first time and mourning its loss, providing us with a different perspective on the lake that is now the lifeblood of the agricultural region of the Ord. Acknowledging the loss that enabled development of the Ord has been critical for reconciliation and looking to the future.

The Ord Final Agreement identified an aspiration for sole management by MG Corporation of the land handed back (Reserve 31165) and efforts have been directed to this objective through capacity building initiatives, joint decision-making and development of a ranger program to help manage the country.

We now support the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to progress sole vesting. This is part of the work of our Kimberley team of 15 staff based in the Kununurra office, who deliver a wide range of business including water licensing, planning, industry regulation, strategic policy, and water measurement and monitoring.

The Kimberley has most of the state’s wild rivers, many Ramsar-listed and significant wetlands and some of the largest naturally flowing river systems in the country. The pastoral industry, mining and tourism dominate the economy. More recently, the expanding agricultural sector has increased demands on our water and environmental regulation services.

Aboriginal cultural values are internationally recognised in the Kimberley and require special consideration in water and environmental management.

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