Solid Science – Water

The Yamaji and Noongar people sourced water from a range of locations such as creeks, rivers, pools and rock holes. In the drier months, the Noongar people used other methods to find and conserve water.

George Grey, a European explorer who walked from Kalbarri to Perth in the late 1830s, recorded seeing weirs made from plants that had been built by Yamaji and Noongar people for accessing and retaining fresh water.

The Noongar people protected their water sources. For example, the Noongar people protected gnamma holes by covering holes, so animals would not get in, and by regularly cleaning holes. This is still done today.

The Noongar people learned from watching animals. Signs such as ants building their nests and birds returning to their nests to protect their eggs or chicks, were indications that it was about to rain. This knowledge continues to be passed down.

When water was in short supply, the Yamaji people knew how to find it. This included taking water from trees such as the desert kurrajong, which holds up to a litre of water in its roots. Aboriginal people would look for clues to find water beneath the Earth’s surface, such as observing kangaroos scratching claypans.

The Yamaji people also used songlines (songs that functioned as maps of the landscape) to know where to find water.

Aboriginal people across Australia used animal skins as bags to transport water. The skin acted like a thermal layer, keeping the water cool for several days. Being able to transport water meant that Aboriginal people could travel long distances to trade, attend ceremonies and access different food resources.

Today, water continues to be a significant part of Aboriginal life and spirituality.

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