Traditional owners living along the Murray-Darling have put together a project aimed at restoring a culturally significant lagoon which they say is one of the essential “organs” of Australia’s largest river systems.

The Indigenous group are taking the fight for water to the government, demanding ‘cultural flows’ – or water rights – for First Nations communities which was promised but never delivered by the Murray-Darling Basin plan.

The Tati Tati people, who form one of the 25 sovereign nations that make up the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) confederation, have put together a detailed project to restore Margooya lagoon in partnership with Enviro Justice Australia.

Margooya Lagoon cultural character (Source: Brendan Kennedy)

The lagoon, sandwiched between two bends of the Murray River where it snakes along the border between NSW and Victoria, has been completely dry for several years after the construction of a concrete weir.

The project puts forward a legal and policy package that Tati Tati Elder Brendan Kennedy says will give traditional owners authority over management of water on their country.

Central to the proposal is access to ‘cultural flows’, which are “water entitlements that are legally and beneficially owned by Indigenous nations, of a sufficient and adequate quantity and quality to improve the spiritual, environmental, social and economic conditions of those Indigenous nations.”

“The health of Margooya Lagoon has a direct impact and influence on the health of our people emotionally, spiritually, physically and culturally,” says Mr Kennedy. “When there’s no water there, it has a devastating effect on our people.”

$40 million put aside to buy water to be controlled and used by Indigenous communities along the river is yet to be used and current water minister Keith Pitt has suggested the money may be reallocated to other projects.

Mr Kennedy says the government has been shown what it needs to do and now is the time to act.

“We expect they start to take action and follow what we’ve proposed on our own countries.

We’re leading the horse to water now we just need them to take a drink.”

Hear more from Brendan Kennedy in our Weekly News in Review program on Friday.