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Sharing sweet water: Culture and the wise use of wetlands in Western Australia

Hill, Alan Leslie (2013) Sharing sweet water: Culture and the wise use of wetlands in Western Australia. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The similarities and differences in traditional, contemporary and global/international cultures’ development and use of institutions for the wise use of wetlands are explored across Western Australia. A process grounded in social anthropology is used to test a research hypothesis and to assess the structure and function of the diverse cultures’ institutions and empathy for wetlands. Six thematic case studies were located in catchments on Perth’s Ridge Hill, Perth’s Eastern Hills, Perth, and Western Australia’s Swan Coastal Plain, the Southwest, and its rangelands. Sources of evidence also include the literature on Aboriginal Australia, an extensive and detailed ethnographic review of regional and historic documents, the scientific literature of strategic water, wetlands and environmental management, and three decades of the author’s professional work.
This analysis demonstrates that traditional Western Australian cultures have diverse and effective institutions for sustainable use, conservation, protection and a well-developed empathy for their inland waters. In contrast, contemporary Western Australian cultures with some important exceptions do not, and are more accepting of the continuing exploitation and systematic destruction of the remaining natural waters, particularly in urban and agricultural areas of the Southwest. This recent destruction of wetlands is moderated occasionally by the efforts of traditional cultures, community and heritage organizations, sometimes through the use of contemporary planning and environmental protection institutions, and more rarely because of Australia’s obligations to global Conventions. The analysis explains why better use of these institutions is essential. Opportunities for improving wise use of wetlands in Western Australia are identified.
Particularly important is the need for the more transparent engagement and regular reporting by the State of Western Australia in support of Australia’s obligations to the global Conventions. This includes reporting on progress towards the establishment of nature reserves on Swan Coastal Plain wetlands under Article 4 of the Ramsar Convention. It includes reporting the meeting of National targets for protecting priority biodiversity of inland water ecosystems, the protection of the buffers of wetlands and waterways as parts of ecological corridors, and State-wide progress towards use of traditional ecological knowledge to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Reporting is needed on progress made towards implementing relevant Articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. All reports might valuably include progress on identified new priority initiatives such as distributed network of wetland education centres, the better protection of monument wetland sites and improved indigenous heritage conservation. Such work, carried out in conjunction with Perth’s Whadjug peoples, the Southwest’s Nyoongar peoples, and the rangeland’s Kimberley, Yarnangu and Yamatji peoples, will help the conservation of the State’s inland waters as a necessary condition of human and ecosystem existence, as well as provide valuable common ground in which to practise tolerance, respect and cooperation between cultures. The better recognition of traditional ecological knowledge, the provision of more support for Indigenous engagement in wetland conservation, and the implementation of a far broader range of effective institutions are all identified as essential requirements for moving towards the wise use of wetlands in Western Australia.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor(s): McComb, Arthur, Chambers, Jane and Davis, Jenny
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