The Roper River is the Territory’s second largest river, with its headwaters extending northwards right up into Arnhem Land and south into the drier expanse of the Beetaloo Basin. The Roper Region is situated within the lands of the Alawa, Wandarrang, Ritharrngu/Wagilag, Ngandi, Nunggubuyu, Marra, Ngalakgan, and Rembarrng peoples. In the dry season the Mataranka hot springs are fed by vast underground aquifers which spill over into the Roper and keep the river flowing all year round. This continuous supply of life-giving freshwater nourishes an array of wildlife in the Roper Valley as the river winds its way to the east before entering the Gulf of Carpentaria at Limmen Bight.
But this iconic Territory river is under threat on multiple fronts, as industrial agriculture and mining corporations rush to get their hands on more water and ignore the environmental and cultural values of the river system. Water extraction licenses, land clearing applications, fracking plans, and moves from the cotton industry all pose grave risks to the health of the Roper. As Greg Dickson says, the Roper is facing death by a thousand cuts.
In 2019, former Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Roper River catchment could be transformed into a "superfood bowl" and that "1 million hectares of the catchment area could be suitable for irrigated cropping". Industry and government’s vision of the Roper is one that sees the river only as an extractive resource. We need to challenge this vision of the Roper and assert its importance environmentally and culturally to the people of the region and the Territory more broadly.
The Roper River needs your help, right now.