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Lessons from Australia’s original water industry

The modern water sector could learn a lot from Australia’s traditional owners, who have been caring for the environment for the past 60,000 years.

Indigenous Energy Australia (IEA) CEO Michael Frangos calls this Australia’s “original water industry”. IEA special advisor Torres Webb will be discussing this concept, which involved water management, aquaculture and agricultural use of water, at the Australian Water Association’s NT Water in the Bush conference in October and QWater’19 in November. 

“It was a sustainable and successful industry that balanced efficiency and equity quite well, which is something the modern sector struggles with,” Frangos said.

“People were part of the environment and took signals from their surroundings that changed the way they interacted with it.”

Indigenous Energy Australia aims to incorporate this knowledge into its work delivering ‘enabling infrastructure’ like water, wastewater and energy to communities across Australia.

Every project is based around contributing to outcomes such as reducing the unemployment rate or creating a sustainable revenue stream, and is offered – not given – to the community.

“Whether we’re working with an apartment block in the middle of Sydney or a small community in Alice Springs, it’s about engaging with people and assessing the capacity and capability for the community to be involved,” Frangos said.

“We’d then look at the skills required to build and operate the project and the existing skills within the community and try to match them up.”

For example, the profit-for-purpose business is working with a community in the Kimberley that is preparing to open a new wilderness centre. This will be a hub for the local community and will provide visitors with a better appreciation of Aboriginal culture and the Australian landscape.

Indigenous Energy is looking at how the site’s diesel generator can be upgraded to a renewable energy source using solar power, a battery and anaerobic digestion.

“In a lot of remote communities, we find decentralised solutions are necessary for water, wastewater and energy,” Frangos said.

“There’s also a drive towards renewable energy; it aligns with the Indigenous concept of custodianship and care for country.” 

With Indigenous Australians disproportionately affected by poor water quality, Frangos said an opportunity exists to apply Indigenous solutions to Indigenous challenges. 

“Not only that, but we can apply Indigenous knowledge across the industry,” he said. 

“It’s not that one trumps the other, but by combining western science with Indigenous science, we have more ways of responding to signals the environment gives us.”

Don’t miss Torres Webb’s presentation at NT Water in the Bush or QWater’19. To find out more about the events and to register, click here.