Australia, Wet or Dry, North or South: Addressing Environmental Impacts and the Exclusion of Aboriginal Peoples in Northern Water Development
Lily O'Neill, Lee Godden, Elizabeth Macpherson, Erin O'Donnell, 'Australia, Wet or Dry, North or South: Addressing environmental impacts and the exclusion of Aboriginal peoples in northern water development', in Environmental and Planning Law Journal Vol. 33 No. 4 (2016)
25 Pages Posted: 26 May 2016
Date Written: May 26, 2016
Within Australia almost since colonisation, there have been debates about whether water supply would pose a ‘limit’ to expansion of settlement. The seminal work by economist Bruce Davidson, ‘Australia Wet or Dry?’ in the mid-twentieth century critically examined the public money invested in large-scale irrigated agriculture in the north of the continent, and indirectly critiqued irrigation schemes in the Murray Darling Basin. Davidson coined the term ‘the Northern Myth’ to describe a widely held belief in the ability of Northern Australia to accommodate vastly expanded irrigated agricultural operations because of abundant water and land.
This paper examines the current policy promoting northern development, including proposed significant extensions to dams and other water supply projects in Northern Australia. It places the latest push for northern water development in the broader historical context of Australian water resource management, finding continual reiteration of ideas that engineers can ‘create water’ and find technical ‘solutions’ to overcome the limitations of a ‘drought-ridden continent’.
We argue future policy directions in Northern Australia must draw on the lessons of past water resource policy with respect to two crucial aspects: redressing the historical and current exclusion of Aboriginal peoples’ rights to water, and the embedding of environmental values in strategic water planning.
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