Topic: Water for Remote First Nations Communities in Australia

The Water Corporation’s Aboriginal engagement and participation ‘Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ strategy is a great example of what can be done to drive genuine and effective engagement for the benefit of First Nations communities.

With a strong focus on advancing the Reconciliation movement and a commitment by the Federal Government to implement the Uluru Statement from the Heart in the Federal Parliament, it is timely for the water industry to consider how it can better engage with Australia’s First Nations peoples and communities in the design and delivery of essential services.

As outlined in this case study, the effective engagement and participation of First Nations peoples can have a profound and positive impact on social and emotional wellbeing outcomes for First Nations peoples and their communities. It also demonstrates that trust and relationship building take time and underpin any genuine engagement activity.

The Water Corporation’s Aboriginal engagement and participation ‘Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow’ strategy is a great example of what can be done to drive genuine and effective engagement for the benefit of First Nations communities.

Context and background 

A comprehensive strategy has been developed by Water Corporation to address the need to acknowledge and heal from the past, enhance our actions today and walk together into the future to make meaningful change.

Titled Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Water Corporation’s strategy is shaped by the voices of the many diverse Aboriginal employees and stakeholders within the organisation.


Reflecting on Yesterday is essential in helping us to both embrace and respect our shared past.

It is important to recognise that there are two very different perspectives representing Australian history, the Aboriginal version, and the European account. Before we even begin to design a path into the future, we need to engage in a process of learning, un-learning, truth-telling and appreciation Thinking about our actions and achievements Today.

We know we do some great things, achieving some amazing results, and we need to celebrate this shared success.

However, we also know that some things are less than ideal; addressing substandard water services in communities, increasing opportunity of employment for Aboriginal people, valuing the cultural skills and knowledge that Aboriginal people bring, and ensuring appropriate representation, and a voice at the table when decisions are made, are just some of the many things we need to address.

In order to walk together with a shared vision of Tomorrow, we need to engage openly in the process of earning and giving respect from, and to, Aboriginal people and community members.

We need to strengthen and build long-term relationships, built on care and integrity, communicate and share information based on the principle of mutual trust, and be open to new ways of doing things, led by the communities we serve.


Water Corporation faced several challenges for the engagement sessions such as:

  • Geographical coverage.
  • Travel parameters and restrictions.
  • COVID restrictions and increase in community transmission cases.
  • Bush fire emergency in regional locations.


Workshops attended by over 220 employees were delivered in a Yarning Circle Mode and included a Welcome to Country by Traditional Owners from each region. Employees had a chance to deep dive into the focus areas of the Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow strategy and our perceived maturity levels in our key focus areas:

Our People: We are an employer of choice for Aboriginal people. We support Aboriginal people on their career pathway, provide a safe and inclusive working environment, and celebrate the unique value they bring to their role and the decisions we make as a business.

Our Culture: Our ways of working and decision making are inclusive, safe, and culturally informed. We acknowledge that Aboriginal culture is holistic, and defined by values, beliefs, customs, languages, and traditions. Additionally, we reflect the Corporations role in the outcomes of yesterday, actively seeking to refine our practices and processes for tomorrow.

Our community: The communities we serve value Water Corporation and the equitable services we provide, and we value the services and advice we receive from Aboriginal stakeholders. We commit to strengthening, establishing and enhancing relationships based on openness, trust, respect and honesty, and are held accountable to the communities we serve in the delivery of our services and the impact we have.

Our Country:  We are a leader in agreement-making with Traditional Owners that are mutually beneficial, and protect and conserve water and Country for future generations

Our workshops covered:

  • Water Corporation’s journey to date.
  • the need for the strategy.
  • the developments in the strategy; and
  • how the strategy and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) work together.

Participants expressed that these workshops were thought-provoking, engaging and energised our people to feel a sense of hope and inclusivity:

Critical success factors 

For Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow to prosper and succeed at Water Corporation, it was important that this strategy was shaped by the views and voices of our many diverse employees and stakeholders.

Members from Water Corporation’s Senior Aboriginal Relationship Group, whose insights have helped develop this draft strategy along with our Reconciliation Action Plan committee, facilitated engagement sessions in some of our metro and regional locations. These sessions assisted with consulting and involving employees and key stakeholders in the finalisation of the draft.

It was identified that Water Corporation needed to consult with employees both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. The methodology that Water Corporation used was to facilitate these engagement sessions by using the traditional Aboriginal meeting method of Yarning Circles.

Each Yarning circle consisted of the following:

  • Included a Welcome to Country by Traditional Owners from each region;
  • A Circle built with earth, plants and rocks from the surrounding country;
  • Was Aboriginal led; and
  • Employees had a chance to deep dive into the focus areas of the strategy and our perceived maturity levels.

Employees were asked to leave laptops and phones and shoes at the door. We always started with the ‘why’?

  • ‘Why are you here today?
  • Tell us about yourself-your family your involvement with community.

This methodology allowed people to be in the mindset of sharing their story and what difference they wanted to make to our journey of reconciliation and Aboriginal engagement.

Feedback from participants: 

thought-provoking and provided engaging conversations that energised our people to feel a sense of hope and inclusivity in the design process of the strategy.

Benefits and outcomes 

By supporting our people and honouring the value their culture and that of the communities we serve bring to this business, we will leverage the opportunity we have to enhance community outcomes for both Aboriginal communities and the wider Country which we walk together on.

Conclusion and key points 

The delivery of the engagement sessions in a yarning circle model provided a safe place for all to speak without judgement. The conversations within a yarning circle have always focused on strengths and not problem solving and criticisms. It is a collaborative way to communicate and provides a respectful place to be heard and to respond.


This case study was developed by the Water Corporation’s Senior Aboriginal Reference Group (Collene Castle, Taylor Hayward, Lynette Lund, Anthony Bell, John Pidek and Eric Brahim) in collaboration with Eric Vanweydeveld (Director of Aquanex Pty Ltd).


In Western Australia and consequently in this case study, the term Aboriginal is used to respectfully refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a collective. This is not intended to exclude Torres Strait Islander peoples, or people that identify as being of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.