Terms of Reference


The unique cultural and environmental values of the Fitzroy River and its catchment are of national and international significance. The Fitzroy River is a living ancestral being and it has a right to life. It must be protected for current and future generations and managed jointly by the river’s Traditional Owners, who are its guardians.

The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council is a council of Traditional Owner groups. The Traditional Owner members of the Council are Bunuba Dawangarri Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC , Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Yanunijarra Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC, Warrwa Registered Native Title Claim Group, the Wilinggin Aboriginal Corporation and the Yurriyangem Taam native title claim group as represented by the Applicant (Parties). Through the Martuwarra Council, our voice is united for the Fitzroy River Catchment.

The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council supports sustainable development that is consistent with the cultural and environmental heritage values of the Fitzroy River catchment. The Council supports an evidence-based framework to manage and protect the river.

The Traditional Owners of the Fitzroy River catchment are the most significant stakeholder in the region. They:

  • hold native title across the entire catchment from the headwaters of the Fitzroy and Margaret Rivers to the sea, and

  • own many businesses in the catchment, as well as approximately half the pastoral leases.

The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council recognises that the region is subject to a range of statutory and regulatory regimes, and that it is subject to significant resource and economic development interest. The Council has been formed by Traditional Owner groups in recognition of the complexity inherent in this contested space. 

The Council is entrusted by Traditional Owner groups as an independent forum to discuss catchment matters and make recommendations that will ultimately be decided by Prescribed Body Corporates and other authorised organisations.

The Council is intended to be the first point of contact on behalf of Traditional Owners for the major state government initiatives, especially the Fitzroy River Management Plan and the Fitzroy River Water Allocation Plan.

As such, the Council represents a historic, collective response by Traditional Owners to maintain the spiritual, cultural and environmental health of the catchment, providing the basis for a collaborative approach for an inclusive water governance model and catchment management plan, as well as other matters affecting the catchment.


The Council has been established to implement the Fitzroy River Declaration. It presents a united voice to ensure that the Fitzroy River catchment is managed and cared for in accordance with its spiritual, cultural and environmental interests.

Traditional Owners recognise that the interconnected nature of the river catchment means that decisions affecting their land will often affect the rest of the catchment. The Council provides a forum to come together to share knowledge and reach positions about the catchment’s management. The Council’s vision is to undertake development the right and sustainable way with Traditional Owners at the front and centre of any decision making.

The Council’s vision is that the Western Australian government will enact legislation that formally recognises that the Fitzroy River is central to the law, culture, traditional practice and responsibilities of the Traditional Owners who are the custodians of the land and waters of the Fitzroy River catchment.

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People

The Council asserts its rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, in particular our rights to participate in decisions that affect us; the right to decide how we develop politically, economically and socially; our rights to control and develop our country; our right to revitalise, use, develop and pass on to future generations our ways of being and knowing; and our right to ensure that governments develop systems for the legal recognition and protection of our country.

  • Article 19 - States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.

  • Article 25 - Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with their traditionally owned or otherwise occupied and used lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources and to uphold their responsibilities to future generations in this regard.

  • Article 29 - Indigenous peoples have the right to the conservation and protection of the environment and the productive capacity of their lands or territories and resources. States shall establish and implement assistance programmes for indigenous peoples for such conservation and protection, without discrimination.

Terms of reference

In May 2016 the groups representing native title interests in the Fitzroy River catchment agreed to establish a council of Traditional Owner groups with traditional responsibility for land and waters within the Fitzroy River catchment. The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council’s founding documents are the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council Statement, arising from a combined meeting of Traditional Owner Groups on 15-16 May 2018, and the Fitzroy River Declaration. Both documents outline the Council’s nature, purpose and key goals.

The Council’s terms of reference are grounded in Customary Law, First Law, aligned with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) water governance principles and it draws on these principles of water governance.

The Council is the voice of the Fitzroy River Catchment and it is entrusted by the catchment’s Traditional Owners to be the first point of contact for governments and proponents.


The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council will implement the Fitzroy River Declaration by:

  • Implementing a collaborative governance model that is based on the law, culture, traditional practices and responsibilities of the native title holders who hold rights and interests in the land and waters of the Fitzroy River catchment.

  • Reflecting the values and aspirations of Traditional Owner groups across the Fitzroy River Catchment.

  • Recognising that the environmental and cultural processes within the catchment are interconnected and that activities may have a catchment-wide impact, and developing policies for their protection and management.

  • As a long term goal, seeking state legislation to establish a Fitzroy River management authority that manages sustainable activities in the catchment, consistent with Traditional Owners’ cultural and environmental heritage values.


The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council has the following key objectives:

  1. Develop collaborative processes that ensure that the Council, as the voice of the Fitzroy River catchment, is recognised as the first point of contact for government and other stakeholders that may be identified in the future.

  2. Develop and agree to a Management Plan for the entire Fitzroy Catchment, to support economic development that is based on traditional and environmental values.

  3. Develop and agree to a Water Allocation Plan for the entire Fitzroy Catchment, surface and groundwater, based on traditional and environmental values.

  4. Create a Fitzroy River catchment buffer zone from the source to the sea that prohibits mining, oil, gas, irrigation and dams.

  5. Establish a joint Indigenous Protected Area over the Fitzroy River.

  6. Strengthen legislative protections for the Fitzroy River catchment, including under the Environment Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) National Heritage Listing and the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 (WA).

  7. Advocate for increased funding for the Fitzroy River catchment’s values and the work undertaken by Traditional Owners to care for it.

Values framework

The Council has been founded to represent the Fitzroy River catchment’s cultural and environmental values. These values provide the framework that the Council will use to balance the competing demands on the catchment. The values will guide the development of the management and water allocation plans and encourage sustainable economic development.

Cultural values 

The Fitzroy River is a living and sacred ancestor from the source to the sea. It has the right to life and the Traditional Owners are its guardian. The Traditional Owners have highly sophisticated cultural knowledge and practices that enable them to be the voice of the river. Decisions about the Fitzroy River catchment must be consistent with our cultural traditions and knowledge.

Environmental values

The Fitzroy River is the life source of the region. The river underpins the catchment’s natural ecosystems and the region’s economy. The river’s Traditional Owners have a wealth of ecological knowledge, which, combined with scientific research, will guide decisions about the catchment’s sustainable management.

Economic values

The Fitzroy River catchment presents a range of economic opportunities and there are many parties with an economic interest in the region. The Council will encourage economic activity that supports our people today and in future generations. 

As the largest and most significant holder of rights in land in the Kimberley, Traditional Owners are the people most affected by economic development. The Council, as the voice of the river, will reach decisions about economic activities that are consistent with Traditional Owners’ economic development interests and their cultural and environmental values.

Roles of the Council and Prescribed Body Corporates

The Council is founded to maximise collaboration between Prescribed Body Corporates and other groups. The Council recognises that PBCs are the representative native title determined governance decision makers. The Council will promote the Traditional Owner values and ethics to the river, the people and the environment. The Council endorses the duty of care for traditional owners to assert their native title rights and interests and make Free Prior and Informed Consent decisions on behalf of PBCs and or named applicants. The Council’s role is to share information, reach agreed positions and make recommendations, while PBCs retain the responsibility to make their own decisions.

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