Year 7 Water in the World

Water in Aboriginal culture

Library Catalogue


Aboriginal men obtain water from mallee root at Yalata in South Australia, 1981.

Source: National Library of Australia


Water Dreaming by Sarrita King



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.



Water in Aboriginal culture

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.


Source: Water Corporation

Aboriginal Water Artwork

Source: Water Corporation

Artwork painted by Grace Fielding and commissioned by Water Corporation

How Aboriginal People Sourced Water

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.


Source: Water Corporation

Finding Water in the Desert

Why is Water so Important to Aboriginal People?

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

Aboriginal water values and management in northern Australia

Aboriginal Connection with Water

Through our Eyes - Finding Water in an Arid Environment