Common ground for Traditional Owners

Tuesday 5 September, 2017
His new role at the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (CMA) is simple to explain for proud Yorta Yorta man Des Morgan.

Officially, he’s been employed as an Environmental Water Indigenous Facilitator but for Des it’s about fulfilling his responsibility as a Traditional Owner.

“For us it’s pretty simple. How you receive the water is how you pass it on and you look after it while it’s on your country,” Des said.

“That’s my responsibility to the people and the land further down the river,” he said.

He’s been charged with helping to formalise arrangements between Traditional Owner groups within the catchment and setting up consultative processes surrounding the use of environmental water.

He’ll work with Yorta Yorta and Taungurung elders to devise specific uses for environmental and cultural water.

Goulburn Broken CMA CEO Chris Norman said he was thrilled to have Des working with the organisation.

“Having Des on board highlights the CMA’s commitment to supporting employment of local Indigenous people,” Mr Norman said.

“He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to us and we look forward to learning from him.”

Des said it was fitting his new role involved working with the mighty River Murray, the banks of which at Barmah were his home for his first decade of life.

“I remember watching my mother and my aunties washing the clothes in the river and drying them on the banks,” he said.

The Murray River is central to the creation story of Des’ people, who believe the river was made when their creator Biami filled the river with his tears.

“He was so relieved when his wife was found in Lake Alexandrina. He had sent his snake Dhungala to find her and his slithering travels set the route of the winding river,” Des said.

“With that happiness he placed the Yorta Yorta people in their country and set down the laws on how to look after that country and the river.”

Des left Barmah aged 16 to train as a motor mechanic in Melbourne.

“But my real passion was working with Traditional Owner groups to protect cultural heritage sites,” he said.

That led to a career with the Department of Human Services (DHS) where he was charged with reuniting families which had previously been separated.

Now he aims to use his influence as the vice chairman of the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation to improve communication between Traditional Owner groups.

“I will aim to create a space where they feel free to speak plainly and I want to be a facilitator between the groups so there’s always an avenue to discussion rather than conflict.

“We need to talk about the types of plants and fish species we want the water used to regenerate.”

The role is part of the Goulburn Broken CMA’s Environmental Program funded by the Victorian Government’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.