DOC Aims and outcomes as of 12/5/2010

Posted by Ian Cunningham to Dialogues on Country Team, 24th March at 4:56 PM


EWB works with Indigenous Australians on education and sustainable engineering projects. Our work is based on a two way sharing of knowledge and cultures to further our ultimate goal of a reconciled Australia. Engineers Without Borders’ vision for a reconciled Australia is of a nation whose past is acknowledged, shared, taught and understood both as a common history and a contemporary reality. We look in hope to seeing a nation that celebrates the wide variety, complexity and value of the many cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We envisage a future Australia in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are proud of having worked together to overcome the inequalities currently experienced by Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples in terms of life expectancy, health, education, meaningful employment, justice and self-determination.


The Dialogues on Country (DOC) trip is being undertaken for the first time in 2010 by an EWB volunteer group, with the aim to hold the trip as an annual educational tour. The group will travel down the Murray and Darling River over a period of approximately 2 weeks to meet with 3 different Indigenous Nations - Kooma, Yorta Yorta and Ngarrindjeri,  whose traditional lands encompass sections of the Murray and Darling River System.

Many of the DOC group are engineers or scientists involved in activities that relate to water management policies at a state or national level. Traditionally, these water management policies have not recognised the cultural importance that water has to Australians, particularly indigenous Australians. This is highlighted by the following quote from Agnes Rigney whose country encompasses the mouth of the Murray in South Australia.

'I don’t think I can be far away from the river, because the river I believe it is in my blood. It is part of me. I was born on the river. I have lived on the river all my life and I am an elder now. We are all part of the food chain, and that’s why I feel a part of it - well I am... The river gave us life, the river fed us.' Agnes Rigney, Ngarrindjeri woman 2004.


We aim to determine how we can best create positive change in the engineering profession, with particular focus on water and land management, through greater knowledge of Indigenous Australia.

We will achieve this aim by:

- Gaining an understanding of Indigenous knowledge and values, particularly in relation to land and water management, and how we can apply that knowledge professionally to achieve better relationships between stakeholders and more sustainable outcomes.

- Exploring the relationship between Indigenous Australian culture and ‘country’, particularly land and water.

- Exploring these themes in the context of Murray Darling basin, it’s history and interest groups

- Determining what we can do as engineers/professionals with this knowledge.



Being the inaugural trip, there is some fluidity with the anticipated outcomes of the trip. However, EWB has identified the inherent value of increased understanding of the Indigenous Australians relation to land and water, it can only lead to a more reconciled Australia and a more equitable decision making process around water and land management in Australia. It is hoped that trip participants will be able to use the knowledge and relationships gained from the DOC to better inform their work as professionals.

With policy decisions around the Murray Darling River being the environmental issue in Australia at the moment.  Indigenous Australia is being required to articulate exactly what Country and consequenlty water means to them. There are many barriers to Indigenous Australia being able to do this, particularly a lack of scientific resources and a lack of understanding around policy and terminology being used in the complex arena of land and water management. It is hoped that DOC participants can assist with translating technical material for communities and sharing their knowledge of how water management operates in Australia.

Reflecting on a meeting with MILDRIN and NSW Dept of Aboriginal Affairs, :

''.. people talking about quite technical matters in an Indigenous way and making some important decisions to do with the rivers and the connected lands, the surrounding environment. It was really powerful.'

Steven Ross, Wamba Wamba man and MILDRIN Executive Officer.

 'Cultural flows are a natural flow which allows everything to grow. Cultural flows include your history and your culture'

Henry Atkinson, Yorta Yorta man


'The modern water negotiations tables set a number of obstacles for the traditional owners in their translation task. When making arguments about the cultural flows into this context, the MILDRIN delegates start talking speaking in reductionist terms, becoming trapped in modernity’s language and also trapped by their own use of cultural.' Weir, 2009



The stories along the Murray Darling are part of Australia's history. The DOC participants hope to capture the stories along the way as a method to capture knowledge and provide a historical and cultural resource to the Indigenous communities and others who may be interested.


The volunteer team commenced planning in February 2010. The DOC is culminating in the community visits in June and July.

Yorta Yorta 26 and 27th June.

Kooma and Ngarrindjeri 31st July - 15th August


The trip logistics are being run entirely by  a volunteer team. EWB are currently looking for funding to support the associated costs for the community visits estimated to be $25,000 to cover transport and accommodation and additional AV equipment to document the trip.


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