Save the Fitzroy River

By Environs Kimberley

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The Kimberley’s Fitzroy is one of Australia’s last untamed rivers.

Full of aquatic life and with a rich cultural heritage, it flows through 350-million-year-old rocks that were a reef before the age of dinosaurs. A big wet season brings widespread floods and a boom in life across the floodplains. It’s a boom-and-bust system.

(The Fitzroy River, Photo by Damian Kelly)

It’s vulnerable.

It’s the last stronghold of the critically endangered Freshwater Sawfish. Sawfish have existed for 60 million years. Take away the water and the floodplains shrink, the Barramundi disappear and cultural sites begin to die. The Murray–Darling has shown what happens when you put big pumps in rivers and cut channels into them: parched wetlands, massive fish kills. Rivers are turned into drains.

Billionaire mining heiress Gina Rinehart plans to take 325 billion litres of water from the Fitzroy River to store in massive dams on her cattle leases. Cotton farmers from New South Wales want to take 50 billion litres from the Margaret, a tributary of the Fitzroy. By comparison:, more than two million people in the South of WA used 283 billion litres of water in 2016/17. Ms Rinehart alone wants a lot more water than that. From the Fitzroy River.

The McGowan Government has yet to respond publicly to Ms Rinehart’s proposal but it’s not compatible with Labor’s election promise to protect the Fitzroy. We recently uncovered the deaths of 46 critically endangered Sawfish on Liveringa pastoral lease, which Ms Rinehart rents from the State Government. The Sawfish are an indicator species — when things are bad for them, we know the River is stressed. Taking huge volumes of water could be catastrophic.

The only way to safeguard the health of the Fitzroy is by maintaining its water flows.

We are proposing that the government create a buffer zone, where largescale water extraction from the River, its tributaries and floodplains would be prohibited. Cultural practices and management, small-scale tourism and groundwater supply for communities would be allowed.

To achieve this kind of protection is a huge task.

It hasn’t been done in Western Australia before. We need to mobilise tens of thousands of people to speak up for the full protection of the River.

To implement our plan we need to:

  • activate citizens to help protect the River by contacting the State Government and EPA to insist the river is looked after

  • Provide Traditional Owners with detailed information on development proposals and their consequences

  • engage with pastoralists, recreational fishers, tourism operators and the pearling industry

  • Advocate for sustainable industries to become the future of economic development in the region.

Together we can save the Fitzroy River.

Please make a tax-deductible donation to ensure the future health of the Fitzroy River and all that depends on it.

As a token of our appreciation, all donations over $10 will receive a free ‘Protect the Fitzroy River’ sticker and all donations over $250 will receive a free ‘Protect the Fitzroy River’ t-shirt or singlet – made to order in your size, style and colour! (Please remember to leave your postal address if you would like to receive this free gift. )

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Team Members

Environs Kimberley

Christine Elsasser

Martin Pritchard