Indigenous Water Engineering and Aquaculture Systems in Australia: The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and Baiame’s Ngunnhu (the Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps)


  • Katherine A. Daniell Australian National University
  • Bradley Moggridge University of Canberra




First People, aquaculture, eel traps, fish traps, Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC)


In Australia, First Peoples have practiced sustainable forms of water management for millennia. They have done so by respectfully caring for Country through their use of engineering and maintenance processes, including sophisticated fish and eel trapping structures and weir systems. Some of the largest continuing sites of water engineering and aquaculture in the world are still visible and used by local Aboriginal groups – the Budj Bim in Victoria and Baiame’s Ngunnhu (Brewarrina Aboriginal fish traps) in New South Wales (NSW). Recent scholarship and successful heritage listings, including the World Heritage listing of the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and work by and with traditional custodians in these river systems, are starting to bring into public discourse and knowledge these sophisticated and important places of global cultural significance. The principles used in the design of these systems, and the social and environmental contexts of their maintenance and convening power over millennia, are particularly important as we navigate new technologically mediated forms of water management today and into the future. These management challenges include communities in Australia and globally working on the importance of significant places, values, rights, justice and voice for Indigenous peoples in building sustainable futures, including through innovation and safe, sustainable and responsible cybernetic approaches to water governance and the SDGs.

How to Cite

Daniell, K. A., & Moggridge, B. (2024). Indigenous Water Engineering and Aquaculture Systems in Australia: The Budj Bim Cultural Landscape and Baiame’s Ngunnhu (the Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps). Blue Papers, 3(1).





challenges, concepts and new approaches

Author Biographies

Katherine A. Daniell, Australian National University

Prof Katherine Daniell was born on Ngunnawal Country (Canberra), grew up on Kaurna Country (Adelaide), and now works at the Australian National University in the School of Cybernetics, Fenner School of Environment and Society, and Institute for Water Futures. Trained in engineering, arts and public policy, her work focuses on collaborative approaches to policy, action and education for sustainable development. Katherine is a John Monash Scholar, Director and Fellow of the Peter Cullen Trust, member of the National Committee on Water Engineering, member of the Initiatives of the Future of Great Rivers’ Rivers Committee, and editor of the Australasian Journal of Water Resources.

Bradley Moggridge, University of Canberra

Assoc Prof Bradley Moggridge is a proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation living on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra. He is a researcher in Indigenous water science at the University of Canberra, with a PhD in science (UC), an MSc in hydrogeology (UTS) and a BSc in environmental science (ACU). He is the current president of the Australian Freshwater Science Society, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Trust and alumnus of the International Water Centre. He has twenty-five years of experience in water and environmental science, cultural science, regulation, water planning and biodiversity.


Abdilla, Angie, Megan Kelleher, Rick Shaw and Tyson Yunkaporta. 2021. “Out of the Black Box: Indigenous Protocols for AI.” Old Ways, New.*Final+Unesco+Paper_Designed.pdf.

ADEE. 2017. Budj Bim Cultural Landscape: World Heritage Nomination. Australian Department of the Environment and Energy, Commonwealth of Australia.

AIATSIS. 2022. “Welcome to Country.” Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Accessed January 11, 2024.

Arup. 2022. Budj Bim Cultural Landscape Masterplan 2022-2030. Arup: Gunditjmara Country.

Bawaka Country, Sarah Wright, Sandie Suchet-Pearson, Kate Lloyd, Laklak Burarrwanga, Ritjilili Ganambarr, Merrkiyawuy Ganambarr-Stubbs, Banbapuy Ganambarr and Djawundil Maymuru. 2015. “Working with and Learning from Country: Decentring Human Author-Ity.” Cultural Geographies 22, no. 2: 269–83.

Bell, Damein, and Chris Johnston. 2008. “Budj Bim. Caring for the Spirit and the People.” Presented at the 16th ICOMOS General Assembly and International Symposium: ‘Finding the Spirit of Place – Between the Tangible and the Intangible, September 29–October 4, 2008, Quebec.

Bell, Genevieve. 2021a. “The 4th Industrial Revolution: Responsible & Secure AI.” Long Now Foundation. YouTube. Accessed July 29, 2021.

Bell, Genevieve. 2021b. “Touching the Future: Stories of Systems, Serendipity and Grace.” Griffith Review 71: 251–62.

Bowra, Matilda. 2020. “An Enduring Indigenous Engineering Project Illuminates a Path to a Sustainable Future.” Created April 15, 2020.

Butta, Ryan. 2021. “On the Banks of the Barwon River – The Millennia-Old New Way of Thinking.” Galah Magazine no. 4: 170–73.

Coutts, Peter J. F., R. K. Frank and Phillip J. Hughes. 1978. Aboriginal Engineers of the Western District, Victoria: Records of the Victorian Archaeological Survey 7. Melbourne: Victorian Archaeological Survey.

Daniell, Katherine A., Hannah R. Feldman and Flynn Shaw. 2022. “Cybernetic water governance? Investigating the role of digitalisation in navigating Australia’s water and climate systems towards and beyond the SDGs.” Presented at CECAR9, 22 September 22, 2022, Goa, India.

Daniell, Katherine A., and Trevor M. Daniell. 2019. “What’s Next for Australia’s Water Management?” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 23, no. 2: 69–77.

Dargin, Peter. 1976. Aboriginal Fisheries of the Darling-Barwon Rivers. Brewarrina: Brewarrina Historical Society.

DAWE. 2005. Baiame’s Ngunnhu – The Story of the Brewarrina Fish Traps. Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment, Australian Government. Accessed April 12, 2020.

DCCEEW. 2021a. “National Heritage Places - Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame’s Ngunnhu).” Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Australian Government.

DCCEEW. 2021b. “National Heritage Places - Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape.” Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water, Australian Government.

Gunditjmara People and Gib Wettenhall. 2022. The People of Budj Bim. Engineers of Aquaculture, Builders of Stone House Settlements and Warriors Defending Country. Heywood, Victoria: em PRESS Publishing for the Gungitj Mirring Traditional Owners Corporation.

Hartwig, Lana D., Francis Markham, and Sue Jackson. 2021. “Benchmarking Indigenous Water Holdings in the Murray-Darling Basin: A Crucial Step toward Developing Water Rights Targets for Australia.” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 25, no. 2: 98–110.

Hartwig, Lana D., Sue Jackson, Francis Markham and Natalie Osborne. 2022. “Water Colonialism and Indigenous Water Justice in South-Eastern Australia.” International Journal of Water Resources Development 38, no. 1: 30–63.

Iwabuchi, Akifumi. 2022. “On the Frontline of Climate Change: The Underwater Cultural Heritage of Stone Tidal Weirs.” Blue Papers 1, no. 1, 88–97.

Jackson, Sue. 2022. “Enacting Multiple River Realities in the Performance of an Environmental Flow in Australia’s Murray‐Darling Basin.” Geographical Research 60, no. 3: 463–79.

Jordan, Bill. 2011. Engineering Works of the Gunditjmara at Lake Condah (Tae Rak) and Tyrendarra, Nomination under Heritage Recognition. Program of Engineering Heritage Australia, Engineers Australia.

Kutay, Cat, Elyssebeth Leigh, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Lyndon Ormond-Parker, eds. Indigenous Engineering for an Enduring Culture. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Linder, Dani, and Harry Hobbs. 2023. “After the Voice Referendum: How Far Along are First Nations Treaty Negotiations across the Country? The Conversation (25 October).” Accessed January 12, 2024.

Loughrey, Glenn. 2022. Unpacking the Statement from the Heart. Canberra: Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

Maclean, Kirsten, Rosalind H. Bark, Bradley Moggridge, Sue Jackson and Carmel Pollino. 2012. Ngemba Water Values and Interests Ngemba Old Mission Billabong and Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps (Baiame’s Ngunnhu). Australia: CSIRO.

Marshall, Viriginia. 2017. Overturning Aqua Nullius. Canberra, ACT: Aboriginal Studies Press.

Martin, Sarah, Hubert Chanson, Badger Bates, Duncan Keenan‐Jones and Michael C. Westaway. 2023. “Indigenous Fish Traps and Fish Weirs on the Darling (Baaka) River, South‐Eastern Australia, and their Influence on the Ecology and Morphology of the River and Floodplains.” Archaeology in Oceania 58: 91–114.

McGrath, Ann, Jakelin Troy and Laura Rademaker. 2023. Everywhen: Australia and the Language of Deep History. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Moggridge, Bradley J. 2021. “Indigenous Water Knowledge and Values in an Australasian Context.” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 25, no. 1: 1–3.

Moggridge, Bradley J., and Ross M. Thompson. 2021. “Cultural Value of Water and Western Water Management: An Australian Indigenous Perspective.” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 25, no. 1: 4–14.

Neale, Margo, and Lynne Kelly. 2020. Songlines: The Power and Promise. Australia: Thames & Hudson.

NSW Government. 2022. “Brewarrina Aboriginal Fish Traps / Baiame’s Ngunnhu.” New South Wales State Heritage Register, NSW Government. Accessed January 28, 2023.

Ngemba CWP. 2019. Ngemba Community Action Plan. Brewarrina: Ngemba Community Working Party.

Pascoe, Bruce. 2014. Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture. Broome: Magabala Books.

Pascoe, Bruce. 2019. Young Dark Emu: A Truer History. Broome: Magabala Books.

PCoA. 2018. Final report, Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Peake, Owen. 2011. Budj Bim Aboriginal Hydraulic Works, Ceremony Report. Tyrendarra, Victoria: Engineering Heritage Victoria, Engineers Australia.

Prpic, Juliana Kaya, and Damein Bell. 2022. “Crafting an On-Country Learning Experience at Budj Bim.” In Indigenous Engineering For An Enduring Culture, edited by Lyndon Ormond-Parker, Cat Kutay, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Elyssebeth Leigh, 178–215. Cambridge Scholars Press.

RiverOfLife, Martuwarra, Katherine S. Taylor and Anne Poelina. 2021. “Living Waters, Law First: Nyikina And Mangala Water Governance in the Kimberley, Western Australia.” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 25, no. 1: 40–56.

Rose, Denis, Damein Bell and David A. Crook. 2016. “Restoring Habitat and Cultural Practice in Australia’s Oldest and Largest Traditional Aquaculture System.” Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 26: 589–600.

Ruddell, Nicholas, and Holly Randell-Moon. 2022. “Indigenous Automation in the Brewarrina fish and Budj Bim Eel Systems: Cultural Responsivity in Cross-Cultural Indigenous Science Education.” In Indigenous engineering for an enduring culture, edited by Lyndon Ormond-Parker, Cat Kutay, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Elyssebeth Leigh, 72–101. Cambridge Scolars Press.

SoE. 2021. “Indigenous Water.” In State of the Environment – Australia 2021. Department of Climate Change, Environment, Energy and Water, Australian Government.

Taylor, Katherine Selena, Bradley J. Moggridge and Anne Poelina. 2016. “Australian Indigenous Water Policy and the Impacts of the Ever-Changing Political Cycle.” Australasian Journal of Water Resources 20, no. 2: 132–47.

UN General Assembly. 2018. “Free, Prior and Informed Consent: A Human Rights-Based Approach. Study of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” A/HRC/39/62, Human Rights Council Thirty-ninth session, 10–28 September 2018, United Nations General Assembly.

UN. 2018. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Resolution 61/295.

UNESCO WHC. 2019. “Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.”

UNESCO World Heritage Convention.

Wardle, Deborah. 2021. “Sustainable Indigenous Water Rights.” In Clan and Tribal Perspectives on Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainability: Indigenous Stories from Around the Globe, edited by James C. Spee, Adela J. McMurray, Mark D. McMillan, 9-22. Bingley: Emerald Publishing Limited.