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Some of the oldest remains of modern humans, outside of Africa, are found in the Murray–Darling Basin. Ritual burial sites at Lake Mungo in south-west New South Wales indicate that humans have lived in the region for over 40,000 years. Within the Basin there are almost 50 Aboriginal Nations. They have a long and strong connection with the rivers and landscapes.

A family camping at Edward River camp site, Millewa State Forest.
A family camping at Edward River camp site, Millewa State Forest.

From the early 1800s explorers and settlers of the colony of New South Wales crossed the Great Dividing Range to discover great expanses of hills and plains much better suited to agriculture than the earlier-settled coastal regions. The rivers of the Basin provided an essential water source and a way to travel and explore inland Australia.

Gold rushes, river trade, irrigation schemes and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme were major events integral to the Basin’s development — not only in terms of industry but also for the waves of settlers and immigrants that came to Basin, making it their home.

In the 21st century, the Murray–Darling Basin is a working Basin. Its rivers support a diverse range of ecosystems, plants and animals, and are culturally significant to Aboriginal people. The Basin also provides essential water for its 2.1 million residents and for another 1.3 million people outside the Basin. The Basin's land and water resources underpin the economy of the region.

Since European settlement, the Basin has become one of Australia's most productive agricultural regions, accounting for 20% of the nation's farming land and producing over one-third of the nation's food. With agricultural prosperity, many large urban centres have developed in the Basin, providing comprehensive services to Basin residents in health and education. Tourism has developed around the historic and natural features of the Basin, providing another important contributor to the regional economy.