Rivers of knowledge

Indigenous hydrogeologist Bradley Moggridge is passionate about the fusion of traditional knowledge and western science, and is on a mission to protect our water.

Bradley Moggridge is using the ancient and tested knowledge of his ancestors to find sustainable water solutions for the driest inhabited continent on Earth.

Working part-time as the Indigenous Liaison Officer for Threatened Species Recovery Hub, under the National Environmental Science Programme, he is also completing a PhD in water science. Brad has built a career as an advocate for protecting and managing water in Australia, based on two very different educational traditions.

A proud Murri from the Kamilaroi Nation in north-west NSW, his unique understanding of Australian water resources is gleaned from an environmental science degree, a Master of Science in hydrogeology, and his Indigenous heritage.

“Studying at uni gave me a physical understanding of how the earth works, along with the Dreamtime songs and stories,” Brad said. “Those stories talk about what people believed and how they built laws around how things work. To a people living in a dry landscape, a natural spring bubbling out of the earth is significant. They think — I will drink it, remember it and I better build some laws around it.

“They passed on those rules through songs or dances, to make sure that water was protected. You couldn’t swim in the top pools because it would pollute the bottom pools, or go into the river with animal fat if you’d been dancing. It’s all about protecting the water.”

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. The understanding of water, and the value placed upon protecting it, was critical to ensuring the survival of Indigenous people for thousands of generations. For Brad, it was this link with survival that first sparked his fascination with water.

“In dry times Aboriginal people would survive using certain waterholes.¬†They’d use song lines and stories to re-find those water sources when the rivers stopped running. That knowledge of water and philosophies around protecting it is something you don’t take for granted, because you might need it one day.”

Brad worked for the CSIRO as their only Indigenous Waters Research Specialist and as the Program Manager for the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ Aboriginal Water Initiative. With the focus usually on resources such as mining and agriculture, Brad said water is often taken for granted.

“Water is a key component in our country’s prosperity. We have to work out a balance in managing our resources. It’s a challenge, especially with water research being politically affected through cycles of government and weather patterns. “We need to understand that water is not an infinite resource. Australia has gotten better in the way it manages its water, with recycling, and measures to restrict water usage. There are a lot of countries watching Australia and how we manage our water, and if we’re proactive and successful in the way we do things, there’s going to be a lot of interest.

“Aboriginal people understood that water was sacred and needed to be protected, but they hold a lot of their knowledge to themselves — it’s not a written culture, it’s an oral one. It’s all based around songs and beliefs and stories and lore, so it’s working out a culturally appropriate way to influence the mainstream, and find the linkages between Western science and cultural science.”

Brad Moggridge completed a Bachelor of Environmental Science at ACU.

Find out more about studying science at ACU.