The Environmentalist

, Volume 27, Issue 1, pp 25-38

First online:

Water injustices and potential remedies in indigenous rural contexts: A water justice analysis

  • Jess McLeanAffiliated withSchool of Geosciences, University of Sydney Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


This paper examines Indigenous water rights in rural and remote Australia and how water justice seems to be elusive in many of these spaces. The purpose of this literature review is to link water justice theory and practices to the way different water cultures are valued in Australia while simultaneously critiquing the water justice movement. This paper situates the notion of water justice as a specific kind of environmental justice to cater for the unique qualities that define this resource. In doing so, this paper draws on Schlosberg’s (2004) conception of environmental justice with its trivalent approach that describes the following three ‘circles of concern’: recognition of difference, plurality of participation, and finally equitable distribution of resources and costs and benefits. This framework provides that if the first two ‘circles of concern’ are not in existence in a natural resource management process, then inequitable distribution of that resource is a likely outcome. This paper presents two areas where water injustices exist in the context of Indigenous rural and remote Australia. The first relates to how Indigenous rights to water have been inadequately recognized and the second presents empirical data on water supply and sanitation in rural and remote Indigenous communities that demonstrates ongoing dilemmas around securing this basic human right. The undervaluing of cultural differences relating to water is argued to be antecedent to the injustice manifest in poor water supply and sanitation provision for Indigenous rural contexts. This paper does not attempt to survey the body of ethnographic work on society-water relations in rural and remote Indigenous Australian contexts but reviews the gaps in current mainstream acknowledgement of Indigenous water cultures. In exploring water justice in rural and remote Indigenous Australia, this paper offers a novel approach to a dilemma more frequently analysed solely as a health development issue.


Indigenous Justice Rights Rural and remote Water