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Indigenous Climate Change perspectives - Sea level rise in Kowanyama, Cape York, Australia

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My name is Inherkowinginambana I am a Kunjen man This place here is Kowanyama That place means, plenty of water Kowanyama is the home of three different tribal groups Kokomnjena, Kokoberra, and Kunjen. It takes ten hours to get here by car, and during the wet season, we are cut off from the outside for up to six months. I work with the community lands office, I go out with the rangers as the traditional knowledge co-ordinator. Today we are going back to the land with the rangers, and one of the tribal elders from the Kokoberra clan, to teach and give them knowledge of this country. We are looking for artifacts that have been buried by the sand. There's a couple of shells over here. So you use this for -they used it to dig a hole a well, like a well Sometimes, they'd leave maybe one or two behind here, that marks it where the spot where the well was. So they know for the next time they come down the beach, and dig it up. All this stuff is very very important, you know. because they have been used by our ancestors and it make us feel happy, picking them up. If you leave them out here, and nobody picks them up, they'll be lost for good. As the sea water rises, the artifacts are being washed away. See how far the saltwater goes right up into the creek? It goes further up. Every year it comes in, it goes a bit further and further and further. Further going up, and when it goes up it will hit into the swamps, once it hits into the swamps, that will kill all of the plant life, and the waterways. When we come through here every year, and you do see the changes. Yeh, you do see the changes of the sand and the river. The sea level is rising, because we do see it everyday here. In the near future, I think Kowanyama will be in danger. Because the country is changing, every year, its changing. The tide water will come in and come up the creek and come into our river, and muck our freshwater river up. That's going to happen, these rangers think the same it's going to really happen. Our old people, have a dreaming story for our fresh water, from a long long time ago, when the saltwater came, a long way up our river (above Kowanyama). That is a story about these stones, and why the Kitehawk left this stone barrier along here. He started to build this wall, to stop the tidal water coming up, but he had to leave here, because the tidal water was not stopping. So he picked up bigger and bigger stones, and placed them further up the river. and stopped the saltwater coming in altogether. Now it's OK we can still walk about, and go hunting everywhere, We can collect water and make a cup of tea, Its still good. Later on, when the tide water comes, its going to bugger everything up. All of us people, black and white, where are we going to go? When that whole ocean comes and rises up, where are you and me going to go? Regional scientists are forecasting sea levels to rise between 49-90cm by 2070 The rise in levels will cause fresh water contamination and possible flooding for coastal communities like Kowanyama. For more information visit:

Video Details

Duration: 6 minutes and 27 seconds
Country: Australia
Language: English
Producer: United Nations University
Director: UNU and Kowanayama community
Views: 171
Posted by: unuchannel on Dec 10, 2008

Australian coasts

Each centimetre of sea-level rise will lead to increasing impacts on low-lying coastal land. Modelling predicts the inundation would cause sandy beaches on the Australian coastline to recede by the order of 100 times the vertical sea-level rise. For example, if the sea level rises by a metre, the coastal beaches could retreat by about 100 metres unless some preventative action is taken. Given that about 85 per cent of Australia's population lives within an hour's drive of the coast, this is particularly relevant.

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