Topic: Water for Remote First Nations Communities in Australia

A DIY plumbing course, developed collaboratively by SA Water and the Anangu community was designed using a custom designed compact travelling workbench to help teach basic plumbing skills and the importance of being water efficient.

For Aboriginal people, the value on water runs deep and it plays a vital role in keeping their culture and communities alive and healthy. Water sustainability is fundamental to communities located in some of the driest regions in Australia.

These communities often see higher than average per person water use when compared to urban areas. This is a reflection of the hot and dry environment coupled with infrastructure issues such as leaking taps and toilets which can be hard to repair when a plumber is more than just a phone call away.

A DIY plumbing course, developed collaboratively by SA Water and the Anangu community was designed using a custom designed compact travelling workbench to help teach basic plumbing skills and the importance of being water efficient.

DIY plumbing course being conducted in APY Lands by SA Water


The Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands is a remote Aboriginal controlled area stretching over 10,000,000 square kilometres. Leaking taps and toilets in these communities often contribute to higher than required water use, and finding a plumber is an ongoing challenge due to the tyranny of distance.  This results in many basic plumbing issues being left unfixed.

While our crews are responsible for maintaining infrastructure, including treatment plants and large underground pipes that supply customers, understanding the internal plumbing and how to safely fix it is useful information for everyone. Supporting local people to fix local issues helps to build resilience and long-term sustainable communities.

In 2018, working with Anangu students, community members, the APY Trade Training Centre and Regional Anangu Services Aboriginal Corporation, SA Water designed and delivered a basic plumbing course to empower local people to repair leaks in their homes and community.

The first DIY plumbing course was held at the APY Trade Training Centre in Umuwa.  It was delivered to students from various APY communities studying a certificate in horticulture and construction.  The short DIY course covered information on:

  • how water is managed, treated and delivered to homes
  • water quality processes
  • water waste processes on the lands
  • the tools that are needed to fix a leak and how they work, the structure of a tap and toilet cistern, and how to use the tools to fix a leaking tap.

Learning outcomes were facilitated by a purpose built ‘water table’ set up with tap fixtures and toilet cistern.  The first table was donated to the APY Trade Training Centre for ongoing use. More recently, a specially designed mobile plumbing bench has been set up and adapted for easy transport and assembly.  The workbench which is fitted with eight stations of taps, pipes and tubes can be manipulated to leak at various points, creating a hands-on experience by simulating common plumbing issues that teach basic repair skills.

DIY plumbing course being conducted in APY Lands by SA Water (Credit: SA Water)

The success of the program has seen it expand into other remote and regional Aboriginal communities and homelands around South Australia, including on the West Coast and Yorke Peninsula.  While the initial focus was to share practical plumbing knowledge with adults, a combined team of technical and education specialists is now bringing the sessions to younger students.

KESAB environmental solutions has been supporting SA Water in this activity with educational resources in language, which provide information on the journey of water from source to tap.

The program enables our people to gain greater understanding of Aboriginal culture and the challenges that remote communities face. Our people have developed an enormous sense of pride and greater cultural understanding, leading to improved reconciliation outcomes within our business and in communities, leading to increased trust and understanding, better decision making and culturally inclusive outcomes.

To date, more than 140 people have participated in the training.


The remoteness of the APY lands presents a unique range of challenges when designing and running community-based programs.  For our people, it presents a very different experience living and working on the lands and the need to understanding community protocols and dynamics.

Central to outcomes is building enduring relationships and having a collaborative approach to design to get buy-in and interest.  Listening, and developing a program with needs and actions that are driven by the community means time and commitment is needed.

A particular challenge during COVID-19 has been ongoing interruptions and difficulties with travel to remote communities.

One key learning has been the importance of taking the training to community. This ensures greater participation and buy-in when compared to holding it centrally.

Benefits and outcomes

The program has provided people within the APY Lands communities with basic plumbing skills and a practical understanding of the water cycle and water sustainability. It has also provided an insight into plumbing maintenance which the community recognises as a potential pathway to career opportunities and new skills to support water efficiency and better water resource management in their communities.

On request from other Aboriginal communities, the program has been expanded to remote and regional Aboriginal communities and homelands around South Australia.

The decision to offer training to younger students provides a hands-on practical experience that is supports participants with educational resources in language and builds an understanding of the water journey from source to tap.

Conclusion and key points

This simple but innovative idea enables our people to play an active role in building meaningful relationships with Aboriginal communities, while expanding their skills and cultural knowledge.

By ensuring the communities we work with define the program’s focus and outputs, the initiative actively builds a partnership that can take genuine steps towards reconciliation as well as supports building community-based outcomes.

The practical result is a greater understanding of sustainable water management within each community, and the skills required to ensure they can achieve it.


This case study was developed by SA Water (Tara Hage, Vanessa Vowles and Lisa Lehmann) in collaboration with Eric Vanweydeveld for Water Services Association of Australia.

It was published in the Closing the Water – for People and Communities – Gap report, a review on the management of drinking water supplies in First Nations remote communities around Australia, November, 2022. The full report can be found here.