Mardoowarra is the Nyikina name of the river now known as the Fitzroy in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. This site will tell you about us, the Indigenous people of the valley, our culture and way of life, our language, and our hopes and desires. These pages will also demonstrate our opposition to large-scale mining on our lands which will seriously damage our ‘River Of Life’.

Mardoowarra is central to our sense of place and identity. Extensive mining will cause severe detrimental change in the region’s ecosystems - our Country and hence our culture and our life. We are not against sensitive development based on adequate information and our informed consent.

We the people of the valley invite you to learn about us and the challenges we face, as well as what we are doing to help ourselves.  We hope you will understand our problems, our fears, our wishes, our plans to create sustainable livelihoods, and we ask for your support.

Traditional owners warned of coal mining 'risks'

Access the Map

A university researcher has advised traditional owners in the Kimberley not to approve coal mines on their land, until more is known about the environmental impact of the project.

A local Aboriginal corporation commissioned the independent study to explore the risks of mining coal in the Canning Basin.

Rey Resources has applied for a licence to build its Duchess Paradise coal mine, almost 200 kilometres south-east of Derby, near the Fitzroy River.

Peter Cooke from the University of WA says his research reveals a gaping hole in information about how the mine would affect Kimberley land and river systems.

"My study was not intended to say yes go ahead or don't go ahead," he said.

"It was intended to bring forward the risks of the coal mining and really the conclusion and the recommendation that my study came to was that at this stage we don't know enough in order to give an informed decision." Read the Report

Broome woman Anne Poelina has lodged an objection to Rey Resources being granted a mining licence for the coal project.  

The objection will be heard in the Wardens Court today.

Woodside Gains Approval

Federal Resources Minister Gary Gray has given approval for a consortium led by Woodside Petroleum to submit a new plan to develop the gas fields. Earlier this year, Woodside abandoned plans to build a gas hub at James Price Point, north of Broome. Last month Mr Gray was again talking up the use of floating LNG technology to develop the Browse Basin.

WA Premier Colin Barnett is strongly opposed to the idea, with concerns offshore processing would provide less economic benefit to the state. Mr Gray said he had decided to vary conditions on five Browse retention licenses to ensure timely development of the field. The leases had previously stated the gas was to be processed at James Price Point but that condition has been removed.

Read more -

Managing Kimberley water now for the Future

Photo: Magali McDuffie

By Dr Anne Poelina*

In the Kimberley region of Northern Australia community, industry and native title leaders are looking for ways to create jobs, share the wealth and secure the future for all Kimberley people.

The cattle industry with the new abattoir on the Great Northern Highway looks promising, and infrastructure for water-for-food projects is coming on line. Pastoralism, agriculture, permaculture and aquaculture, wild harvest and the growing of bush foods and medicines are being promoted across the globe as emerging and growing regional industries.

In promoting the opportunity to have a united plan for diverse industries, we need to have a better understanding of the current and future demands on water, and of how we are going to work together to share the benefits among all the stakeholder groups of our most precious resource.

As a native title holder and a Director on our Body Corporate, I see there is in-principle support for Kimberley people to work together to plan not only sustainable livelihoods but sustainable life.

Following the National Heritage listing of the Fitzroy River (Mardoowarra) in 2011 (photo, above right), I have been developing ideas around a holistic big-landscape plan. A plan to showcase and market the earth science, culture, shared heritage and conservation values of the Mardoowarra would not prevent or preclude other developments.

Issues of land, food and energy security in 2015 bring Kimberley people now to the critical point where we need to sit around the table and plan how we are going to use and manage Kimberley water, now and for the future.

Water stewardship equals good water governance

On 3 November 2015 Kimberley non-government organisations and community members from Derby, Fitzroy Valley and Broome gathered (photo below) to discuss how Kimberley people can have a stronger voice in decisions about the future use and management of rivers and groundwater.

These resources are known to traditional owners and custodians as ‘Living Water’.

The meeting was full of positive energy as people listened and shared water- and land-stories and their connection to the Fitzroy River catchment. Former Murray-Darling Basin Authority executive Jason Alexandra facilitated the workshop, which was attended by representatives from Traditional Owner groups, landholders, conservationists, researchers and community members. 

The workshop heard about the activities of Water Stewardship International (WSI), whose approach was developed in Australia during the devastating drought of the 2000s.

It is now being used by local communities worldwide to achieve responsible use and management of freshwater, in ways that are socially and economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable.

The Director of Water Stewardship Australia, Michael Spencer, explained: ‘WSI’s framework considers all the elements of water use and management that communities feel are important, including cultural uses, and it sets standards that are internationally consistent. A key part is to achieve good water governance.’

The meeting was timely, coinciding with increasing development activities and proposals in the Fitzroy Valley and West Kimberley. These bring opportunities and risks for river systems such as the Fitzroy River and its connection to living water systems.

There was strong support from the meeting participants for the creation of a broad-based coalition of interests along the lines of the Fitzroy Catchment Management Group or FitzCAM, which was set up in the Fitzroy catchment in 2008 and ran for two years.

FitzCAM was a regional governance model which brought many different groups together and built trust and respect between local people and groups with a commitment to work towards best practice land and water management. I believe there is general agreement about forming an alliance.

Participants were reminded that the region is working in a different political and economic climate.

However, there was full agreement to continue to work with government and industry groups to look at how a new alliance could happen within a water stewardship framework. A long-term goal of this framework would be for Aboriginal people and the wider regional community to become better informed in our decisions about future water use and allocation, based on detailed risk assessments and employing international best practice standards.

To learn more about these ideas, contact me at or phone 0408 922 155.

*Dr Anne Poelina is a 2011 Fellow of the Trust

Merging the waters of the Mardoowarra and the Meuse

Photo: Sophie Maillard.

Merging the waters of the Mardoowarra and the Meuse by Ian Perdrisat*

Standing in the middle of a 2000 year old Roman bridge, Peter Cullen Trust Fellow Dr Anne Poelina, a traditional custodian of the Mardoowarra (Fitzroy River) in the West Kimberley region of Australia, joined hands with Paul Michel, an elder of the small village of Brainville. Together they poured water from the creeks, springs and billabongs of the Fitzroy River valley into the ancient river Meuse deep in the heart of France.

The trip was in response to a visit to the Kimberley by Dr Philippe Vaillant, a French post doctoral research scientist who brought water from the Meuse River to merge with the Mardoowarra in April.

The water ceremonies sharing the energy of these great rivers were conducted to promote the need to protect the world's ancient river systems. Dr Vaillant’s work involves promoting community participation in integrated water planning and management.

Prior to the water ceremony Dr Poelina, Ian Perdrisat and Dr Vaillant participated in a workshop, with members of the Brainville community and the La Chenaie de Mambre association, about the need to build resilient river systems. Many of the world’s ancient river systems are threatened by the impact of mining, fracking, damming and extensive agriculture.

The French experience has been that resource extraction, industrialisation and agricultural activities involving pesticides and fertilisers have contaminated rivers to the point where the water is unfit for human consumption or swimming. Dr Poelina has lodged an objection in the Western Australian Mining Wardens court against the Duchess Paradise thermal coal mine proposed by Rey Resources.

She has also sent a submission to the WA EPA Public Environmental Review (PER). A wide range of interest groups including traditional custodians, scientists and environmental groups have also sent submissions to the WA EPA regarding Rey Resources, which wants to establish new coal mining precincts in greenfield wilderness areas such as the Fitzroy River Valley.

‘We must learn from the mistakes of the past whether they be in France or the Murray-Darling Basin; we must be guided by evidence in making decisions that once made cannot be undone. You cannot repatriate a poisoned river,’ Dr Poelina said.

Dr Anne Poelina (a 2011 Fellow of the Trust) attended the ‘Resilience and Development: Mobilising for Transformation’ conference (www. in Montpellier, and travelled through France during May, 2014 listening to concerns of scientists and the community about threats to the sustainability of living water systems from activities such as shale gas extraction, mining and chemical-based agriculture. 

Photo: Sophie Maillard.

Dr Philippe Vaillant, Paul Michel, Dr Anne Poelina and Ian Perdrisat with members of the Brainville community conducting the water ceremony.

*Ian Perdrisat is a member of the Mardoowarra community. 


Stories To Learn From

Dr. Anne Poelina (L) and Lucy Marshall OAM

Dr Anne Poelina, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Water & Environment Trust (2011), talks about why it is important to share stories so Aboriginal experience and knowledge can be included in land and water management decisions. She talks about the importance of a cooperative way to develop Australia's multiple economies.

A Nyikina woman, Dr Poelina contributes a significant voice promoting partnership of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal interests in the future ethical development of areas rich in cultural, agricultural, mineral and ecological resources.

Read her paper 'Stories to Learn From', published in RipRap, Edition 36, 2013

Traditional Owners Challenge the Natural Gas Agreement Bill

The Natural Gas Agreement Bill formalises an agreement between the Barnett Government and Buru Energy to build a pipeline from the Canning Basin to the Pilbara. Here it can tie into the Dampier to Bunbury pipeline bringing Canning Basin gas to both the domestic market in the South West and export facilities in the North West.

The Bill also requires Buru to continue to investigate gas reserves in time for a 2016 final investment decision on the construction of the pipeline and associated infrastructure.

Acquisition of land at James Price point would allow processing of shale gas as well as offshore gas.

Watch the video [ 8 mins. ]

Buru Energy

Buru Energy is planning to use the controversial process of fracking in five gas wells between Broome and Derby.

Buru's 2010 fracking program took place on the traditional country of the Yawuru people of Broome and surrounds. Following this fracking program, Yawuru Chairman Patrick Dodson said that Yawuru people are opposed to fracking on Yawuru country until they can be satisfied that it doesn't pose a risk. It's a position that remains unchanged.

But with fracking essential to extracting most Canning Basin gas, an Indigenous veto would seem highly unlikely. Mr Dodson acknowledges that traditional owners do not have legal power to influence fracking in the Kimberley.

"We don't have the capacity to stop these things from happening, but we do have a responsibility to make sure our people are given the best opportunity to make free, prior and informed consent over proposals on their land."

Read ABC article no. 1 [online]

Read ABC article no. 2 [online]


Shale Gas and Coal Seam Gas

"Some people herald it as the start of a new dawn, and others condemn it as a potential environmental disaster.

I am talking of course about shale gas and shale oil, produced by hydraulic fracturing — known by its shorthand as “fracking.” With every new technology there are winners and losers, benefits and costs."

Read more

"The new "Saudi" in the US is far more important than that country's fiscal cliff and will hit existing energy producers such as the Middle East and Australia.

Read more

The online activist group GetUp has created an interactive map showing all
the coal seam gas reserves and mining wells across the country.

What is fracking? [ PDF 3.3 MBs ]

Access the map here -

More information on gas fracking -


Coal seam gas wells south of Chinchilla in south-west Queensland. (AAP)

Big Jump In Mining In Kimberley

The Centre for Conservation Geography analysed the extent of mining and exploration leases across the region and identified a 500 per cent increase in mining activity in the past decade. It also found current and proposed mines in the Kimberley are threatening
80 per cent of the area's rivers, wetlands and flood plains.

Rupert Quinlan from the Pew Environment Group, which commissioned the study, says the findings are significant because of the detrimental impacts mining can have on the environment. "What we're seeing is that mining doesn't have boundaries, mining can occur anywhere under the current legislation," he said. Mr Quinlan says the State Government needs to implement a regional plan to protect areas of environmental significance. 

Read More
Map showing Kimberley mining leases and exploration, November 2012 

Water Resources & Mining

Executive summary

This report provides an overview of the mine void issue, the creation of pit lakes and associated hydrogeological processes, an assessment of the potential impacts on groundwater resources, and water management considerations at mine closure. The report outlines the technical information required for the compilation of recommended guidelines, which will assist the mining industry in gaining environmental approvals related to proposed developments below the water table. Eighteen case studies (detailed in Appendix 1) have also been completed to highlight differences between groundwater environments, regional setting and mine closure options.

Mining is leaving a legacy of hundreds of mine voids throughout the State. There are numerous safety issues that must be addressed as part of mine closure and, until recently, there had been no assessment of the potential long-term environmental impacts of mining below the water table. The mine void issue is vitally important to both the Government and mining industry, as neither wishes to be liable for rehabilitation or stabilisation of a mine void over a period of decades or possibly millennia. In Australia, mine void issues have previously focused on the coal mining industry, sand mining, and politically sensitive mines in the tropical areas of the Northern Territory.

Mine void-related impacts are a long-term concern for Western Australia, as there are currently about 1800 existing mine voids and more than 150 mines operating below the watertable. The size of mine voids varies from borrow pits (about 100 m in diameter) to the enormous pits in the Goldfields and Pilbara. The larger mines require substantial groundwater abstraction (dewatering) from sumps or in-pit/perimeter bores to facilitate dry-floor mining practices. On cessation of dewatering, the waterlevel recovers to create a ‘pit lake’ within the mine void, thus initiating geochemical and hydrological processes that evolve with time. The infilling of the void with water may take centuries, with chemical evolution via evaporation continuing much longer.

There is potential for many pit lakes in Western Australia to become point sources of hypersaline water and impact on the surrounding groundwater resources. The low annual rainfall and high evaporation experienced over much of the State produces a rainfall deficit, which contributes to the development of hyper-saline water bodies. There are also potential problems with the generation of acidic conditions in pit lakes, particularly for the coal mining industry in the higher rainfall, southwest region and a few isolated metalliferous mines.

The salinisation and acidification of pit lakes has the ability to affect local and regional groundwater resources, as well as the broader natural environment. The extent of impact on the surrounding groundwater environment is largely dependent on the local hydrogeology, as to whether the mine void will act as a (1) groundwater sink or (2) groundwater through-flow cell. In the groundwater sink regime, evaporation exceeds the rate of groundwater inflow into the void and is typical of most hard-rock mines throughout Western Australia. Mine voids where groundwater inflow exceeds evaporation act as a ‘groundwater through-flow’ type, forming potential environmental hazards with saline plumes moving out of the void and affecting other groundwater resources.


Rey Resources Mining Application

March 25 2011

The mining company Rey Resources has applied for permission to mine coal and uranium in a large area of the lands of Nyikina people, centred on what wasLower Liveringa Station, but extending into the Great Sandy Desert and endangering Mardoowarra itself. The current application refers only to the Duchess Paradise Resource, but as this development is intended to generate finance for further exploration and extraction, the full extent of Rey Resources' proposals can be seen on these maps.

Submissions about the proposal close on 25 April 2011. The processes of approval should include more consultations with the people of the valley and consideration of the greater importance of its natural ecosystems. Mardoowarra flows through an area which has been earmarked for Heritage Listing and its natural and ecological values should be protected and nurtured for all future generations, including all Australians and overseas visitors.

April 27 2011

The Mining Warden has recommended that the application be approved. Definitive Feasibility Study (advanced work) is due to begin in June 2011.

June 6 2011

Rey Resources announcement on ASX : (first page only)

"Maiden coal reserve at Duchess Paradise"

" Initial Coal Reserve estimate in upper (P1) seam of 26.3 Mt

Mine plan currently allows 10 year life and sales at approximately 2Mt pa

DFS on track for completion in June 2011

Drilling due to start in June has the objectives of expanding shallow
reserves by converting Inferred resources to reserves, defining
potential underground reserves and exploring new outcrop areas

Rey Resources Limited (ASX: REY; “Rey Resources”) is pleased to announce its maiden
reserve for the potential Duchess Paradise thermal coal project. The reserve statement is
based upon part of the Measured and Indicated resources of the upper (P1) seam and
follows the resource up-date of the P1 seam at Duchess Paradise in April 2011 and further
mine planning as part of the DFS.

“The calculation of a thermal coal reserve is considered a major step in bringing us closer to
an initial mining operation at Duchess Paradise, subject to the DFS outcomes and regulatory
and other approvals,” said Rey Resources’ Managing Director, Kevin Wilson.

Rey Resources engaged Marshall Miller & Associates, Inc. (“MM&A”) to prepare a coal
resource estimate for the P1 coal seam in the Duchess Paradise area in the northwest of
Western Australia, which was completed in March 2011. Subsequently, MM&A were also
engaged to prepare a statement of coal reserves based on the resource, consistent with
JORC guidelines."

Jobs for Indigenous People in the West Kimberley

What does the future West Kimberley labour market look like, and where, in terms ofnumbers and composition, are Indigenous workers likely to fit?


In considering such questions, Altman [2006. ‘The future of Indigenous Australia’, Arena Magazine, 84 (August–September): 8–10] has suggested four policy choices:

1. maintain the status quo in poor economic outcomes (the experience to date); 
2. encourage people to move and acquire mainstream work (the current policy approach);
3. build an economic base at remote communities (only partially attempted to date and CDEP dependent); 
4. or focus on underwriting Indigenous livelihoods and recognising new forms of property (also CDEP-linked and requiring recognition of new forms of property).


Ecotrust Australia

Added 8 February 2013: Ecotrust Australia has decided to wind down operations
for the time being as of 31 July, 2012. Please read the statement here.

Ecotrust is a new enterprising non-profit organisation that seeks to make a breakthrough contribution in the areas of conservation, social finance and community development in Northern Australia. We have a specific focus in regional and remote areas, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It is our belief that old thinking won’t fix new problems. A tremendous opportunity is emerging to rethink how development gets done, in some cases whether development occurs at all, and in all cases how to ensure that positive benefits are long-lasting, and ideally permanent.


Ecotrust Australia’s purpose is to promote Reliable Prosperity in Northern Australia. We seek to offer tools and resources to Indigenous and other community-based organisations to facilitate positive change at the intersection of cultural resilience, ecosystem conservation, economic opportunity and community vitality. Drawing inspiration from the highly successful Ecotrust models in Canada and the United States of America, Ecotrust Australia will broker expertise in the areas of knowledge systems and social finance to underpin an Indigenous-led vision for cultural and environmental conservation and development in Australia’s north.


Ecotrust Australia will have a specific focus in regional and remote Australia, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

The work of Ecotrust Australia will support endeavours that:

Economic futures for Northern Australia

Northern Australia, from the Kimberley to Cape York, has reached an important
juncture in its economic development.

Across much of this area resource exploration and development is running at a
frenzied pace while simultaneously natural and cultural heritage values are being
recognised through such processes as National Heritage (Kimberley) and World
Heritage (Cape York) assessment.

The challenge we face is how to chart a sustainable path between resource
exploitation and recognition of the incredible natural and cultural values of the
region – while still delivering economic opportunities for communities in Northern