Long ago in the Dreamtime when the earth lay sleeping and nothing moved or grew, lived the Rainbow Serpent. Then one day the Rainbow Serpent awoke and come out from beneath the earth. Refreshed from her long slumber she travelled far and wide leaving winding tracks from her huge body and then returning to the place she had first appeared.
On her return she called to the frogs "come out!" The frogs came out slowly as their bellies were full with water which they had stored during their long sleep. The Rainbow Serpent tickled their stomachs and when the frogs laughed, the water spilled out all over the earth to fill the tracks of the Rainbow Serpent. This is how the lakes and the rivers were first formed...
Aboriginal men obtain water from mallee root at Yalata in South Australia, 1981.
Source: National Library of Australia
One of the great recurring stories in Aboriginal art is the location and presence of water on traditional lands. Over the vast land mass of the Australian continent, much of the country is in dry and water-deprived condition for large parts of the year. Throughout the different climate zones of the continent, the presence of water plays out in different ways, and this is possibly most obvious in the desert regions.
Knowledge of water is critical in this process. It defines where the animals will be found and how the native plants will flower and bear fruit and nuts that are then gathered by Aboriginal people. By knowing the location and condition of local water sources, Aboriginal families reinforce their ownership of their traditional lands.
For many millennia, the ability of Aboriginal people to find water in arid conditions ensured their survival. Aboriginal groups throughout Australia had similar ways of finding water, which depended on their environment.
Artwork painted by Grace Fielding and commissioned by Water Corporation
Aboriginal people used creeks, rivers, wetlands (billabongs) and other natural water features such as streams, lakes, waterholes and gnamma-holes (cavities found in rocks).
Natural water storage also occurred in trunks (boab/paperbark) and the roots of trees (kurrajong). Frogs in the sandy desert areas also retained water. People often followed dingos and other animals to rock pools and waterholes while ants led them to subterranean reservoirs. They channelled and filtered their water, covering it to avoid contamination and evaporation.
Water was carried in bags made from skins to areas where it was needed.
Early Europeans often depended on Aboriginal knowledge to help them find water. Creation of water sources and where to find them was often related in Dreaming stories or in artworks.
For Indigenous people, water is an intricate part of the landscape that holds vast social, cultural and economic importance; its value is intangible. It is not easy to marry this with the quantitatively-focused western style of natural resource management which tends to separate components of the landscape into ‘silos’.
Source : eWater