Indigenous rock holes - traditional water collection methods

| Karen Pither


I was in the Paroo Shire for a recent audit, driving between sites, we were discussing local indigenous heritage and the use of rock holes to collect and store water was mentioned.


These rock holes, called gnamma, occur across the desert regions of Australia, extending across SA, WA, NSW and QLD. They are naturally occurring whilst others are created or improved by chipping away grooves to direct water into a low point and even using fire followed by cold water to crack the rock and increase the water storage volume.


Traditional Aboriginal water collection and storage practices have evolved for many centuries and continue into the present. The locations of these rock holes were mapped and memorised with the knowledge passed down to younger generations.


Rock holes were continuously maintained and cleaned. The cleaning of the rock-holes includes removing dead animals and sometimes the sediment and placing a stick into the holes to allow small birds and animals to escape if they fall in. It was also discussed during the visit to Paroo that water lilies were planted in these rock holes to cover and protect the water held in the hole.


Below is an example of a rock hole in Western NSW taken from the excellent series ‘Through our eyes:’






Through our Eyes - Finding water in an arid environment with Badger Bates - YouTube