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KPC Input to Kimberley Waterways paper

Kimberley Waterways Discussion Paper

Please consider the Kimberley waterway values discussed below and provide input and comments. This information will be incorporated in the North West Region and Statewide Waterways Strategies. Specific examples may be used where appropriate.

Name: Chris Henggeler, representing the opinion of:
Department/Organisation: Kachana Pastoral Company

The Kimberley waterways are important socially. There are specific Aboriginal interests for Heritage sites and Native Title rights. Recreational activities include fishing, swimming and boating. And many appreciate the aesthetic characteristic of rivers.

What social/cultural aspects of waterways are of primary importance to you?

A locally driven common will to ensure the health of our landscapes which would then permit a sustainable use of our waterways for activities we value socially/culturally

What do you consider the main impacts/threats to social values provided by waterways in the Kimberley?

Their lack of health due to largely dysfunctional landscapes

What management actions do you recommend to maintain and enhance the social and cultural values of Kimberley waterways?

Clear, realistic and well defined landscape goals for each catchment area and incentives for primary stakeholders to explore more effective methods of management.
Future management outcomes may provide for multiple use of waterways.
e.g. a Conservation Reserve with recreational access areas for Traditional owners.

Do you have any recommendations on achieving this with minimum impacts?

If locals and government could agree that healthy riparian areas (waterways) can only exist within the setting of healthy landscapes (like healthy urinary tracts, arteries and veins can only exist in a healthy body), then logic would seemingly dictate that only after we achieve a reasonable level of landscape health could we begin to determine what privileges we as humans wish to exercise thereon. The fact that in a 700mm rainfall area we do not have more perennially flowing creeksystems, is a fairly good indicator that perhaps we should primarily exercise caution in defining "use" and focus on recreating some form of higher level of eco-system function (more effective water cycles, more solar energy and carbon effectively sequestered in our landscpes each year, etc). This would give us a sound basis on which to determine land use including "traditional practices".

How can we best ensure that social values do not impact on the quality and health of waterways?

Landscape goals defined and driven by primary stakeholders and endorsed by the community at large and careful monitoring that any practices are not in conflict with the desired outcome.

Do you have any ideas on improving understanding of cultural importance?

Effective communication of cultural values based on higher levels of environmental literacy across the board. This needs to take into account cultural knowledge that remains from earlier times, more recent cultures eg Pastoral, Afgahn, and other historic heritages, through to present recreation orientated cultures.

The Kimberley is renowned for unique waterways, remoteness and wilderness. Large areas of the region are relatively unimpacted with a diverse range of native vegetation, animals and ecological processes. There are three Ramsar wetland sites of international significance in the Kimberley, supporting populations of freshwater and saltwater crocodiles, and 160 species of birds, including significant breeding and migrant populations. Of the 26 remaining “wild” or near pristine waterways classified in WA, 17 are in the Kimberley. Environmental values are also culturally significant to traditional owners.

What environmental values of Kimberley waterways do you consider to be most important?

The statement above is inaccurate to misleading! It appears to be based on (or at least to be in line with) a scientifically flawed report produced by Waters and Rivers in 1997 (if I recall correctly).
  • There are no "unimpacted areas" in the Kimberley; There haven't been any for thousands of years if we are to believe scientists. The Kimberly as we know it, is very much a product of human impact. The vast majority of it's environments had become "addicted" to human management (direct or indirect) long before more recent migrations of humans to the area. If we view the Kimberley region as a whole, "lack of active management" now prevails; what management does occur is fragmented and often by default.
  • "Wilderness" seems to be the politically correct expression for "we do not understand this environment, let us study it and control public access"
  • "Pristine" seems to be the politically correct way of saying "Wow, this is beautiful. Let us keep it this way."
    (Try saying that to a little puppy-dog, a cute baby or an egg where the chick is about to hatch and then come back and take a photo a year later.)
Most of us would agree that it is easier to ride a bicycle from point A to point B than to balance it on one spot. The dynamics of ecosystem processes (even in dysfunctional environments) far more complex than we will ever totally understand. Attempting to manage environments based on public perception and on dominating value-systems within a culture will fail if we do not align our management practices with ecological laws and principless. May I refer the conscientious citizen to Dr David Suzuki's latest book: "GOOD NEWS FOR A CHANGE".
Kimberly waterways to Australia are as important as all the veins and arteries in say 5% of our body. To the Kimberley they are as important as 100% of all the veins and arteries. Emotional, cultural and spiritual values flow on from that.

What management actions do you recommend to protect environmental values of waterways in the Kimberley?

Ecologically sound, socially desirable and financially affordable management contracts referenced against clearly defined landscape goals for each catchment.

What steps would you recommend to protect and enhance aquatic plant and animal biodiversity in the region?

These sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority) once we begin with out-come based management of our resources.

Which weed and/or feral animal species do you consider to be the most threatening to the environmental values and waterways of the Kimberley?

Lack of understanding of eco-system function: A punctured vacuum will fill. Australia 250 years ago could arguably be considered to have been a biological vacuum maintained by fire and radiation from the sun despite some migratory movement on wind currents (to which I include migratory birds). Not only did we puncture that vacuum, we disrupted the way stability was maintained and for over two hundred years have been creating means for new species to colinise the vacuum. A "weed" or a "feral animal" is a living organism that challenges our comfort zone. It is almost always a biological indicator of preceding management actions.

Do you have any suggestions on controlling introduced plant and animal species and therefore minimising impacts on the Kimberley environment and waterways?

These sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority) once we begin with out-come based management of our resources.

Do you have any ideas on improving understanding of ecological importance?

Promote environmental literacy

Are there any particular catchments, waterways or issues within the Kimberley that you consider need greater attention and management?

Those whose ill-health is increasingly impacting on human communities. Those that promise to offer sanctury for endangered species.


Much of the Kimberley region is leasehold land for grazing purposes. Stock on these properties access waterways to obtain a reliable, good quality source of water, as well as shade from vegetation along the foreshore. Weeds and feral animals in the Kimberley can cause problems in terms of productivity, river health and water quality.

What waterway values do you consider most important to the pastoral industry?

It is interesting to note that country managed by CALM, country managed by aboriginal interest groups and country managed by industry related interest groups (pastoralism included) all shows similar symptoms of ecological dysfunction. The export product of the pastoral industry is made up largely of water; water imbued at a watering point and water cycled through plants. A healthy biological component of the water-cycle would therefore have to be considered of highest value to the pastoral industry.

Do you have any comments in relation to improved waterway management on pastoral properties?

Does the management of veins and arteries differ greatly between an athlete, electrician, body-builder, concert-pianist and computer programmer? Given that pastorlism at present only utilises a minimum of the resource when viewed on a total catchment scale, perhaps we need to distinguish between "landuse" and "landscape management". A healthy body can then be used for one or more of the five uses described above (not to mention all the other possibilities). Pastoralism probably offers the greatest immediate opportunity for Australia to improve water catchment health in a useful timeframe, BUT the actions needed to revitalise landscapes and improve water-cycles at whole catchment levels needs to be distinguished from industry related enterprises.


The Kimberley region is rapidly becoming more popular and accessible as a holiday destination for Australians and visitors from overseas. Eco-tourism is beneficial in terms of economic returns to the region, increasing knowledge and understanding of the Kimberley and its waterways, and allowing tourists to enjoy the regions natural features. However Eco-tourism also places pressure on the resources, with impacts on waterways at camp sites, day visit areas and boat mooring sites.

What aspects of Eco-tourism are of primary importance to you?

Any form of tourism needs to sustain or enhance the resource that it promotes. Tourism that does not lead to a direct enhancement of the ecological resource cannot be considered to be economically sound despite lucrative cash-flow. Tourism like any other enterprise or form of land-use needs to factor in full costs: environmental, social and financial. Much of what goes by the name of "Eco-tourism" is riding on the emotions of the clientel and is ultimately at the expense of those who would wish to live in this region in future times.

What do you consider to be the main impacts of tourism in the Kimberley?

Despite high cash turnover we see the seasonal bleeding of finances out of the area and resulting social, cultural and environmental impoverishment. Short term gains at the exepense of longterm appeal.

What management actions do you recommend to ensure there are no detrimental impacts from tourism operations on Kimberley waterways?

These sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority) once we begin with out-come based management of our resources.


The Ord River is the only waterway in the Kimberley utilised extensively for agriculture at present. The Ord Irrigation Area is of great importance to the economy and community of Kununurra and surrounds. Both Lake Kununurra and Lake Argyle were constructed on the Ord River to enable irrigation in the area. The Ord Irrigation area currently covers approximately 15 000 hectares, with sugar cane, fruit and vegetables the main crops. The proposed Ord Stage 2 development will substantially increase the irrigated area, as well as the volume of water used for irrigation each year.

What aspects of the irrigation industry are most important to you?

The sustainability of diverse, environmentally sound, socially desirable and financially lucrative primary production enterprises.

What do you consider to be the main threats to the irrigation industry in the Kimberley?

Big business and both flawed and restrictive legislation. An escalation of issues (including salinity) in the upper Ord as a direct result.

What management actions do you recommend to ensure that irrigation does not have detrimental impacts on Kimberley waterways?

These sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority) once we begin with out-come based management of our resources.

Commercial Fishing / Aquaculture

Both commercial fishing and aquaculture are important to the Kimberley economy and community. It is important to monitor and protect fish stocks, habitat and breeding areas, and maintain the overall ecological health of waterways in the region.

What important benefits do commercial fisheries bring to the Kimberley region?

Don't know.

What do you see as potential threats to the commercial fishing industry?

Contamination and lack of sustainable supply of natural nutrients.

Can you think of any impacts an expansion in aquaculture in the Kimberley region may have on waterways?

Positive: More local experience and knowledge. A healthy mix of small local enterprises offering our youth employment and investment opportunities while catering for a growing market demand.
Negative: Potential further depletion/contamination of the resource base. Big business implementing high-cost labour saving infrastructure and mining the resource to satisfy shareholder interests outside the region.

What management do you recommend to protect commercial fishery and waterway values?

These sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority) once we begin with an out-come based management of our resources.

What aspects of waterway management are currently working well and don’t need to be changed?

Ord Land and Water have succeded in initating comunication within the cumunity. This body has also demonstrated that it is capable of communicating "community will" to State and Federal bodies.

Do you have any ideas for improved management practices to achieve healthy waterways?

Once we have a critical mass of local comittment to realistic landscape goals, these sort of challenges will soon make themselves known (as will their priority). All hinges on out-come based management of our resources at the grass-roots level.

What will be the outcome of the current situation continuing for the next 5 years?

More of the same.

Please add any other comments or issues you feel are important to waterways management?

We thank Rivers and Waters for the opportunity to comment.
We encourage you to forward this questionnaire for input from people dealing with similar challenges in other parts of the world.
We recommend monitoring programs as offered by Dr Elaine Ingham to more accurately identify existing trends in microorganism populations in current and future management situations. www.soilfoodweb.com
We invite Waters and Rivers to send a representative to our Landscape Management Workshop: Kachana, September 4th,5th & 6th 2002. (for details contact: ).