Murray River regulation, through the construction of upstream storages, has altered the flooding and drying cycle of the Murray Valley forests, and has adversely affected their ecology.
In 1915 the historic River Murray Waters Agreement - still in place - allowed Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia to harness and share the waters of the Murray. A complex network of management systems and infrastructure now administers these arrangements.
Three principal storages affect the Barmah and adjacent Millewa forests. The Hume Dam and Yarrawonga Weir, on the Murray River, were completed in 1936 and 1939. The Dartmouth Dam, on the Mitta Mitta River which flows into the Hume Dam, followed in 1979.
These capture heavy winter/spring flows, preventing the normal prolonged forest flooding at this time. The storages then release water in summer and autumn to meet the needs of irrigators, stock, industry and domestic users.
Planning for long-awaited irrigation for agriculture had begun under the new State Rivers and Water Supply Commission in 1905. Irrigation was extended progressively to the Barmah Forest region in the mid-1900s. The purpose of forest grazing then moved from drought relief to fattening animals prior to market.
Government policy allowed for a multiple-use forest. Under the Forests Commission from 1918, trained foresters controlled logging through tree selection and silviculture methods. Foresters and stock owners together managed grazing.
As the Aboriginal rights movement grew, Cummeragunja Reserve residents and Aboriginal leaders called for an inquiry into alleged ill-treatment and unsuitable living conditions there. When it was refused, the Cummeragunja Walk-Off resulted in 1939.
More than 200 residents left, camped across the river in Barmah for three months in protest, and then walked to other towns on Yorta Yorta Country. Dhungalla (the Murray River) and the forest provided a home, protection and food for the residents during this long protest for Aboriginal and human rights.