He first began as a student participant in a project that helped find irrigation solutions to re-establish the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service community garden. Niall later worked in Walgett with the Dharriwaa Elders Group (DEG) as part of the Food and Water for Life project. As he heads off for some long-awaited overseas travel, he reflects on his experience in this unique partnership.


Access to food and water is of life-sustaining importance. It directly impacts physical and mental health, supports work and recreation opportunities, and has far-reaching, not-easily measurable knock-on effects.  

Working with the UNSW Yuwaya Ngarra-li (YN) partnership over the last four years, first through the student-led Impact Engineers team and then as a research assistant, has put me face-to-face with the shocking realities of food and water access in the rural NSW town of Walgett. These are realities no doubt echoed across Australia. I think many people would be shocked to know that in Walgett, you cannot rely on your tap for a clean cup of water, you cannot count on your rivers being clean, or even running, and that you pay inflated, often prohibitive prices for the very same groceries available in our cities.  

While these realities for the Walgett community often left me outraged, the opportunity to work with the Dharriwaa Elders Group, and with university staff, has been inspiring. I’ve seen the explicit power of coordinated community advocacy and organising, the importance of these community voices in shaping approaches, and the beneficial role universities can play in working towards outcomes.  


I started work with the YN partnership with the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (WAMS) community garden. Working with WAMS staff to install drought-proof wicking beds (garden beds that store water in below soil reservoirs) was the first step towards revitalising the garden that had died from water restrictions. The community garden is really quite a radical space, directly tackling food security with free and fresh produce. The long-term objectives for the garden – to upscale, to create seating space, to teach food knowledge and to survive drought (to name just a few) – are inspiring. This is a direct example of a community-led reimagining of food access. 

Physically being in Walgett, and meeting and building relationships, has been the most rewarding part of my work. The community members, and DEG staff I’ve been lucky enough to know, have limitless reserves of good humour and spirit. I’ll never forget the day setting up for the Kobie Dee concert with the team, laughing the entire time, enjoying a warm March evening with local talent on stage, families spread out across the grass and kids playing in every direction – it was an incredible showcase of a strong community. 


During my university studies I became interested and involved in the politics of water. Working in Walgett has allowed me to see these politics first-hand, with water over-extraction and over-allocation commonplace, the downstream consequences of upstream pollution evidenced, the gaslighting of Aboriginal leadership by water managers and the overall impacts of dominant Western-based ways of knowing and relating to water on show.

Water should be understood as a fundamental human right, important not just for physical survival but imbued with complex cultural, social, and spiritual meanings. Working in Walgett has made me passionate about building towards a space where differing water worldviews become a norm of state and national water policy and the health of rivers and communities are prioritised.  

I’d like to thank everyone I have been able to work with through this partnership project. It was eye-opening and an incredibly valuable learning experience for me.