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  • Richard


What an incredible sight. Local guide explaining that behaviour, and behaviour regarding water, is based on Tjukurpa: Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu culture. It provides the rules for behaviour and for living together. It is the Law for caring for one another and for the land that supports people's existence. Tjukurpa refers to the time of creation as well as the present time; and explaining how the 'custodians' would manage any water ponds in such detail such that one could be used for bathing and swimming by children, the other kept clean for drinking water

Wanting to understand more about this I found “Finding Water at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park - Water you can see and water you can’t. This explains "there are two types of water found within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (UKTNP), surface water and groundwater. Although much of the water found in the area remains hidden below the ground, both groundwater and surface water play a vital role in supporting cultural and environmental values in the Park. To understand water in the region requires an understanding of the local climate. Rainfall is low and can be unpredictable, although slightly more rainfall tends to fall from January to March. Evaporation rates of more than 2 metres per year mean water that collects in temporary wetlands or creek lines soon dries up after the rain has stopped.” (Finding Water at Uluru-Kata Tjuta, National Park,

“Unusual climatic events Rainfall in the arid zone is highly variable, with some years receiving very low rainfall and floods in other years. Floods around Uluru-Kata Tjuta occurred in the summer of 1974, December 1988 to March 1989, and February 2000. The BBC (23 February, 2000) reported on the floods of 2000 that extended from Queensland to Central Australia; “Further inland, monsoon rains have created a giant inland sea. Waterfalls have been created on the giant Uluru”. In July 1997 an exceptional climatic event occurred when snow fell on Uluru.

The BBC (1997) reported that snow falls at Uluru were the first in recorded history. “Aboriginal legends, handed down verbally from one generation to the next, have no stories of similar events so this was clearly an extremely unusual happening. The snow lasted for some 35 minutes before rapidly turning into slush and melting in the rising sun”.

On the long hot (very hot by the end, having started quite early to watch the sun rise) walk around the rock it was fascinating to see how much water is accumulated around the monolith.

“Surface water There are temporary and more reliable soaks and waterholes throughout the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, including the Mutitjulu waterhole at the base of Uluru. Temporary areas of surface water exist for varying periods after rainfall, such as within the gorges of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, or the claypans and depressions associated with Mulga communities, an acacia shrub. The Britten-Jones Creek is the only defined watercourse in the area. It is ephemeral, meaning it only flows for a few days after rain. It is partly because of this impermanence that surface water cannot be relied on as a source of potable (drinking) water. Another reason is that all surface water resources in the Park have a cultural significance as they are associated with Tjukurpa.”

“Cultural water values Anangu people recognise four main kinds of water sources; Large waterholes or springs are the most reliable water source. Soaks (kakanpa) are a fairly reliable water source that represent a local water table in the sand of a dry creek bed or in the soil next to a rock dome. The soil or sand protects the water from evaporation. Waterholes (tjukula) that occur on exposed platforms in the gullies of Uluru and Kata Tjuta and are not protected by sand or soil. Claypan water (tjintjira) that is most prone to evaporation.”

“Anangu consider that all water sources in the Park are caused or have an association with Tjukurpa. The knowledge of the location and temporal availability of water sources has always been an essential component of Anangu ability to survive when travelling through country” Uluru-Kata Tjuta Management Plan, 2000

Story also told by guide that animals also come to drink from these water sources – the people knowing to hold back from hunting them until the last one comes and then that one can be killed. So as not to scare the first ones away and so that they will continue to visit, never knowing what had happened before.

Because I found this indigenous water management so fascinating I found online this additional explanation of people’s understanding of water and how they managed water sustainably in this dry continent for tens of thousands of years …..

The Cultural Value of Water

‘Water is the life for us all. It’s the main part. If we are gonna loose that I don’t know where we gonna stand. If that water go away, everything will die. That’s the power of water. He connect with the land. Pukarrikarra (the dreaming) put ‘em all together. Onelife.’Indigenous peoples are connected to and responsible for our lands and waters and in turn, Indigenous peoples obtain and maintain our spiritual and cultural identity, life and livelihoods from our lands, waters and resources. These cultural and customary rights and responsibilities include: a spiritual connection to lands, waters and natural resources associated with water places management of significant sites located along river banks, on and in the river beds, and sites and stories associated with the water and natural resources located in the rivers and their tributaries, and the sea protection of Indigenous cultural heritage and knowledge associated with water and water places access to cultural activities such as hunting and fishing, and ceremony.

While it is not possible to homogenise all Indigenous cultural water values into one perspective, as Indigenous values are regionally diverse and complex, there are some commonalities and distinctions from non-Indigenous laws that are important to recognise and understand. Indigenous relationships with water are holistic; combining land, water, culture, society and economy. Consequently water and land rights, the management of resources and native title are inseparable. In a study undertaken in Anmatyerre country, in the Northern Territory, the Anmatyerre (people) identified that: Our cultural values of water are part of our law, our traditional owner responsibilities, our history and our everyday lives. Everyone and everything is related. Our law has always provided for the values we place on water. It is the rules for men, women and country. Anmatyerre Law is strong today, but it is invisible to other people. Australian law should respect Anmatyerre Law so we can share responsibility for looking after water.

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