Home > Goolay’yari Aboriginal Community Partnership Strategy

The Goolay’yari Alliance Aboriginal Partnership Strategy is a roadmap for Aboriginal inclusion and partnership, co-designed with Traditional Custodians and other local Aboriginal people connected to the Cooks River. It recommends a set of measures for the Cooks River Alliance to take a collaborate journey towards more inclusive, respectful, and culturally rich engagement with the Aboriginal peoples of the Cooks River. The strategy’s vision is to forge a strong, collaborate and inclusive partnership between the Cooks River Alliance and Traditiononal Custodians and other relevant Aboriginal peoples, underpinned by a shared commitment to preserving the Cooks River’s heritage, promoting reconciliation, fostering cultural understanding and respect, and of course, caring for Country. This strategy has nine goals, each identified and driven by community aspirations and designed to bring about meaningful and inclusive change.

Why this strategy?

The Cooks River Alliance aims to improve the health of the Cooks River and, in doing so, its capacity to enhance the lives of all people who live within its valley, and who visit its shores. Accordingly, this Strategy provides a road map to achieving Objective 2.1 of the Cooks River Alliance Strategic Plan 2022-2025: A permanent Aboriginal voice to Place.

For thousands of years prior to colonisation, the Cooks River supported a highly diverse range of life, and provided people with a range of food, shelter and cultural services. But in the short time since colonisation, shortcomings in decision-making over the River have seen its capacity to provide these services severely diminished and have led to the Cooks River being dubbed as ‘Australia’s sickest river.’ Consistent with the Alliance’s Strategic Plan, First Nations philosophies of Place and People, and Caring for Country, are seen as important antidotes to these shortcomings, providing a decision-making basis to revitalise the River, and hence breathe new life into how people can enjoy and benefit from it.


To create a strong and collaborate partnership between the Cooks River Alliance and the Traditional Custodians and all local Aboriginal peoples, with a shared commitment to inclusion in caring for the River, celebrating its Aboriginal heritage, promoting Reconciliation, and fostering cultural understanding, inclusion and respect.


1. Revive Cultural and Community Celebration

Goal: To revitalise and sustain the Wurridjal Festival as an annual cultural celebration that
honours and celebrates the rich Aboriginal heritage, traditions, and contributions to the Cooks River, its catchment and peoples and communities.

Justification: The Wurridjal Festival serves as a platform to strengthen community connections, foster cultural pride, and promote cross-cultural understanding. It lapsed during COVID but represents important social capital for the Alliance and broader community. By bringing together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities, the Festival creates opportunities for sharing, understanding and learning about Aboriginal culture, history, and contemporary life.

2. Genuine Joint Management

Goal: To reform the existing Cooks River Alliance Management Committee to promote greater inclusion and collaboration with the Aboriginal community by establishing a Joint Management Committee (JMC) for the Alliance with 50% of the positions represented by Aboriginal people who are identified and supported by the Traditional Custodians. One of the Aboriginal Board members will also co-chair the Alliance.

Justification: A JMC will ensure that Traditional Custodians and other relevant Aboriginal voices and perspectives are at the centre of management and revitalisation decisions for the River. This approach builds on growing best-practice in joint management of national parks and other natural and cultural heritage assets. It fosters shared responsibility, knowledge exchange, and equitable representation. It will lead to sustainable, more cost-effective and culturally respectful management of the River and its resources. It will also give additional legitimacy to the Alliance, qualifying it and making it more competitive for additional avenues for resourcing.

3. Rename to Goolay’yari Alliance

Goal: To recognise and honour authentically the enduring Aboriginal heritage and cultural significance of the Cooks River and help reverse the negative impacts of colonisation.

Justification: Renaming of the Cooks River Alliance to the Goolay’yari Alliance will reflect a commitment to acknowledging and celebrating the Aboriginal history, heritage and particular significance of this River. “Goolay’yari” is a name of cultural and historical importance, resonating deeply with many Traditional Custodians, local Aboriginal community members and the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. By adopting this name, the Alliance member organisations can not only honour the River’s rich Aboriginal history but also convey a genuine dedication to Reconciliation, cultural preservation, decolonisation and the forging of a new era of collaboration and understanding. A rename would symbolise the Alliance’s vision of a strong and collaborate partnership that genuinely values and promotes the Aboriginal heritage of the Cooks River and its people

A consultation process led by an Aboriginal person is recommended to confirm and secure consensus on the rename. This would include close consultation not only with Traditional Custodians but also individual members of the Alliance. Along with the renaming, Traditional Custodians could also be invited to design artwork as a new logo for the Alliance and the Wurridjal Festival.

4. Aboriginal Boatshed and Cultural Hub

Goal: Under the leadership and guidance of the Traditional Custodians, establish an Aboriginal Boatshed on the River, serving as a cultural hub to promote artistic expression, educational programs, and eco-tourism opportunities focused on Indigenous knowledge, traditions, and history.

Justification: The Aboriginal Boatshed will provide a physical space for community members to gather, share cultural practices, and engage in educational activities. Additionally, the Boatshed’s eco-tourism opportunities will create economic benefits for the local Aboriginal community while promoting cultural exchange and understanding.

5. Apply Aboriginal Knowledge and Protocols to the River and its Management

Goal: To integrate local Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and names into the River and its management. The Alliance, as the peak body responsible for managing the entire catchment, can promote use of Aboriginal place names and language in interpretive signs, and also develop and implement a plan to change the name of the River, in consultation and agreement with the Traditional Custodians and the NSW Government. The name Goolay’yari has been proposed by the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council and other Aboriginal stakeholders and community members, including a number of Traditional Custodians. Further consultation would of course be necessary. This could be conducted in conjunction with the name change for the Alliance. On TEK, traditional fisheries management, cultural burning and other traditional land management techniques have strong potential to be applied more actively to the River’s care and environmental restoration. This will enhance more sustainable and cost-effective management efforts and promote cultural healing.

Justification: By incorporating Aboriginal language, knowledge and practices, the Alliance
can promote Reconciliation, recognition and decolonisation while also implementing
enhanced ecologically sustainable land management techniques, supporting biodiversity, and fostering cultural healing from the impacts of colonisation on the River and its peoples.

6. Re-establish Aboriginal Landcare Coordinator (or similar) position

Goal: To employ an Aboriginal Landcare Coordinator – or similar position – dedicated to caring for country activities on the River, promoting application of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, and fostering meaningful participation and collaboration with local Aboriginal communities. The position can also provide an opportunity to develop the professional skills of the employee, including support to undertake short course and tertiary-level qualifications in related areas such as social and environmental sciences, natural resource management, and Indigenous studies.

Justification: An Aboriginal-designated Landcare Coordinator will serve as a bridge between the Alliance and Traditional Custodians and other relevant Aboriginal peoples, as well as providing assistance to existing Landcare-type groups in the catchment. The person can facilitate open and respectful communication, promote understanding of community aspirations, and co-design initiatives that apply TEK and align with cultural values and environmental priorities. Additional support for the position would bring it into line with Federal and State government ‘Closing the Gap’ policies concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tertiary education outcomes (3,4,5). It would demonstrate that catchment
groups like the Cooks River Alliance are ideal entities for hosting First Nations positions for
‘Closing the Gap’ while also enabling First Nations cultural, social, and environmental insights in natural resource management.

7. Cultural Competency Training Program

Goal: To implement comprehensive cultural competency training facilitated by Aboriginal people or organisations with local connections to country for all Alliance employees and Management Committee members, thus fostering cultural safety, competency and respect.

Justification: Cultural competency training will promote cross-cultural awareness, challenge biases, and enhance staff and Management Committee member communication skills, leading to more effective and culturally sensitive interactions between Alliance staff and local Aboriginal communities. It will also improve cultural awareness within the workplace, paving the way for preparation of a Reconciliation Action Plan.

8. Promote Indigenous procurement

Goal: To contribute to economic empowerment within Aboriginal communities and demonstrate commitment to genuine partnership.

Justification: By becoming members of Supply Nation and reforming procurement policies to
support Indigenous businesses, Alliance member organisations can demonstrate their
commitment to engaging actively with Indigenous-owned businesses and suppliers. This aligns with the vision of cultivating authentic partnerships. Joining Supply Nation can allow the Alliance to champion Indigenous procurement practices and foster sustainable economic growth, particularly with local Aboriginal communities.

9. Reconciliation Action Plan

Goal: To develop and publish a Reconciliation Action Plan that outlines the Alliance’s
commitment to Reconciliation, Indigenous engagement, and cultural preservation.

Justification: A Reconciliation Action Plan would demonstrate the Alliance’s dedication to the
vision and goals of its Aboriginal Community Partnership, providing a clear roadmap for actions, targets, and timelines. It would symbolise a genuine commitment to Reconciliation and cultural respect, and hence foster trust and mutual understanding between it and local Aboriginal peoples and communities.

Community consultation and co-design process

Development of this Strategy was grounded in a comprehensive and inclusive community engagement process from May to September 2023 that aimed to ensure active participation of local Aboriginal communities, particularly the Wangal, Cadigal and Gameygal peoples as Traditional Custodians. This process incorporated a range of methods and approaches to gather insights, ideas, and aspirations.

Community Mapping Exercise

Our engagement journey commenced with a Community Mapping Exercise, a critical foundation for understanding the local context and identifying key stakeholders. This involved wide research and consultation to identify relevant Traditional Custodians, other relevant Aboriginal peoples and organisations, community organisations, groups, and individuals within the Cooks River catchment area. The mapping served as a valuable reference throughout the engagement process, enabling us to tailor our approach and engage inclusively with the right people and organisations. A comprehensive Community Mapping Report was provided to the Cooks River Alliance. A summary Community Mapping Report was distributed broadly among Aboriginal community members before commencement of the co-design process. It is attached to this report.

Consultation and Iterative Co-design with Local Community

Acer community mapping was complete, to gather ideas and feedback for the Strategy, we embarked on consultations with local Aboriginal community members, prioritising Traditional Custodians but including all Aboriginal peoples and organisations with interests. Recognising the importance of efficient and respectful engagement and the risks and impacts of consultation fatigue in First Nations communities, we leveraged as much as possible on existing community organisations and structures to facilitate our interactions. We also engaged in one-to-one meetings and utilised a wide range of communication tools – from direct yarning, to telephone, email, and social media channels to make sure everyone who wanted to have a say could. This approach avoided consultation overload while ensuring culturally sensitive engagement that aligned with the community’s preferences.

The consultation process encompassed both formal and informal meetings, workshops, and gatherings. These interactions were designed to create safe spaces where Traditional Custodians and other Aboriginal community members and organisations like the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council could freely share their thoughts, concerns, and aspirations for the Cooks River and its future. We sought to foster open dialogue and build trusting relationships, recognising that meaningful engagement is a continuous and evolving process. The co-design process culminated in a Cooks River Goolay’yari Koori Family Fun Day which brought together over 120 local Aboriginal people to yarn about and validate suggestions for the Strategy that were raised during co-design and consultation processes.

Grass roots consultations were invaluable in shaping the Goolay’yari Aboriginal Community Partnership Strategy. They provided insights into the community’s deep connections to the Cooks River, their desires for cultural preservation, and their vision for a collaborative and genuine partnership with the Cooks River Alliance. Lyrebird Dreaming Pty Ltd thanks and acknowledges the flexibility of Cooks River Alliance management in accommodating these important cultural needs and principles.

Throughout the engagement process, we strived to ensure that community members felt
heard and valued, and that their contributions directly informed the Strategy’s goals and objectives. The Strategy’s success will be a testament to the commitment and dedication of the Traditional Custodians, particularly the Wangal, Gadigal and Gameygal peoples and other resident Aboriginal community members, whose invaluable input has guided us in crafting a visionary roadmap for the future of the Cooks River.

Listening to, incorporating and making the voices and perspectives of the community central has been core to this Strategy’s development. It reflects the commitment of Lyrebird Dreaming Pty Ltd and Cooks River Alliance leadership and staff to genuine partnership, Reconciliation, and celebration of the rich Aboriginal heritage of the Cooks River. Community updates during the consultation and co-design process are also attached to this report.


1. ABC (2022). ‘Bad River’: Australia’s sickest urban river. Australian Broadcasting Commission, RN Breakfast, 8 August 2022: https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/radionational-breakfast/bad-river:-australias-sickest-urban-river/14009472

2. CRA (2022). A river of Place and People: Cooks River Alliance Strategic Plan 2022-25. Cooks River Alliance, Cooks River Catchment, Australia

3. TAFE NSW. (2023). Aboriginal Students. NSW TAFE, Accessed 18 September 2023, https://www.tafensw.edu.au/student-services/aboriginal-students.

4. DoE. (2023). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Higher Education. Department of Education, Australian Government.  Accessed 18 September 2023, https://www.education.gov.au/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-higher education#:~:text=New%20demand%2Ddriven%20funding%20will,their%20chosen%20course%20of%20study.

5. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. (2020). National Agreement on Closing the Gap. Australian Government, Accessed 18 September 2023, https://www.closingthegap.gov.au/national-agreement/national-agreement-closing-the-gap