'We don’t want to drink that water': cross-cultural indicators of billabong water quality in remote Indigenous Australia

Shaina Russell, Emilie Ens, Ngukurr Yangbala Rangers

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Globally, many Indigenous people rely on surface waters for drinking due to limited access to safe or palatable water, cultural and spiritual reasons and belief in its healing properties. In northern Australia, Indigenous people from the remote community Ngukurr have raised concerns about drinking water from freshwater billabongs due to potential microbial contamination from feral ungulates (buffalo, pig, horse and cattle). In response to these concerns, a cross-cultural assessment of water quality and drinking water safety was undertaken. Indigenous biocultural indicators of water quality and perceptions of drinking water safety at billabongs were documented. In addition, Western scientific methods were used to assess billabong waters surrounding the Ngukurr community for the waterborne pathogens Cryptosporidium and Giardia. The results revealed that local Indigenous people make decisions about water quality and drinking water safety through visual indicators, seasonal knowledge and intuition. Giardia was only detected in the late dry season and Cryptosporidium was not detected during either the wet or dry season. The commonly held Indigenous perspective aligned with the pathogen results, whereby billabongs were safer to drink from in the early dry season then the late dry season. Boiling water when drinking from billabongs during all seasons is considered best practice to avoid ingestion of infective enteric pathogens.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1221-1233
    Number of pages13
    JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - 2020


    • gastroenteritis
    • Giardia
    • Indigenous ecological knowledge
    • participatory action research
    • raw source water
    • South East Arnhem Land Indigenous Protected Area
    • wetland


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