Custodianship and stewardship

In order to have healthy catchments, we all need to be stewards of the land.

Rous County Council's vision of healthy, productive catchments with fully functioning ecosystems that produce clean water can only be achieved by working together with catchment partners that apply an ethic of custodianship and/or stewardship to the land.

The terms 'custodianship' and 'stewardship' encompass a sense of responsibility towards land and the landscape. This embraces the concepts of sustainable natural resource management and managing natural resources within their capabilities (to meet local and broader community values), both now and in the future.

The Widjabul people of the Bundjalung nation are the traditional custodians of the lands, waters, animals and plants of our water catchment areas and maintain a responsibility and deeply felt association with the water and the land of this area.

Local landholders in our drinking water catchments are managing land to protect the health of our waterways, drinking water supply, land, wildlife and people. 

Traditional Custodianship and sustainability

Aboriginal people have lived in this country for many thousands of years and developed a sustainable culture and relationship with the land and water. Local Aboriginal people developed cultural practices and understanding specific to their place, their geographic region, their climate and their ecosystems. These cultures developed over a long period of time and were capable of continuing for a long time into the future. From the perspective of 'land management' and relationship between humans and nature, they were successful. They were sustainable.

With European invasion or 'settlement', much of this way of life changed. Traditional knowledge systems and ways of understanding and respecting the natural ecosystems, however, have survived throughout the country.

At Rous County Council, we believe that asking the local Aboriginal people about their custodianship of the land and their understanding of water is a good basis for improving the health of drinking water catchments in partnership with the wider community.

The Widjabul people of the Bundjalung Nation

The water supply area managed by Rous County Council is set amongst a landscape that is part of the identity, spirituality, connection and resource base for the local Aboriginal community, including tribes of the Bundjalung nation. The Bundjalung nation stretches up the coast to the Logan River, down the coast to the Clarence River, and inland as far as Stanthorpe. Many tribes make up the Bundjalung nation, just like many Aboriginal nations make up the continent of Australia.

The Widjabul people are one of the tribes of the Bundjalung nation. Widjabul country extends from the lower Richmond River area around Coraki to the headwaters of the Richmond catchment in the north, and eastwards to the coastal escarpment areas. The catchment areas for Rocky Creek Dam, Emigrant Creek Dam and the Wilsons River Source all lie in Widjabul country. Rous County Council recognises that the people of the Widjabul country are the original custodians of the lands, waters, animals and plants of our water catchment areas. Despite the significant changes of the past 200 years, the Widjabul people still maintain a responsibility and deeply felt association with the water and the land of this area.

Rous County Council acknowledges and respects this relationship and the traditional laws, customs, beliefs and culture of the local Aboriginal community. The recognition and conservation of local Aboriginal culture in partnership with local Aboriginal people are important objectives of several Rous County Council projects including Reconnecting to Country and The Water Walks.

A creative partnership

Rous County Council and the Widjabul traditional custodians have been working together since 2003, along with Sustainable Futures Australia. Through our mutual concerns for land and water, and by working creatively and wholeheartedly together for the benefit of the environment, we maintain a positive relationship with each other.

The projects we work on focus on 'environmental sustainability', but also aim to demonstrate in very practical terms the importance of social justice, recognition and building relationships. In other words, 'social sustainability' cannot be separated from 'environmental sustainability'.

Rous County Council and the Widjabul traditional custodians have entered into this relationship, primarily to do with the protection of natural and cultural values in drinking water catchment areas, to emphasise and promote the importance of water to country and all people. The relationship between Widjabul custodians and Rous County Council primarily deals with the need for all of us to look after water as people. This working relationship is about Rous County Council acknowledging the ancestry, heritage, country, identity and language of the people from this country.

This is a community education and reconciliation project. We are working together for future generations to make Australia a better place.

This work does not impact on Native Title claims or claimants.

More information

For more information on Widjabul Country, download the following information sheets from the Water Walks at Rocky Creek Dam (RCD) and Emigrant Creek Dam (ECD).

RCD 1 - Welcome to Widjabul Country (Rocky Creek Dam)
ECD 1 - Welcome to Widjabul Country (Emigrant Creek Dam)

There are also several other resources related to the Widjabul custodianship of the Rous County Council drinking water catchments including:

  • Njabai: Widjabul Buderham (Water: Widjabul Creation Story) children's book and DVD including a Bundjalung dictionary
  • Burbang Poster (Look After the Water, The Water Looks After Us)
  • Gadje Ba Jogun Poster (Let's Stand Together, Looking After Country)
  • Stickers (Look After the Water, The Water Looks After Us)

To request a copy of these resources, please visit our Administration Centre.