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Drawing water from a creek bed in Birdsville ca. 1926



A soakage, or soak, is a source of water in Australian deserts.

It is called thus because the water generally seeps into the sand, and is stored below, sometimes as part of an ephemeral river or creek system. Soakages were traditionally important sources of water for Australian Aborigines in the desert, being the most dependable source in times of drought in Australia.

Aborigines would scoop out the sand or mud using a coolamon or woomera, often to a depth of several metres, until clean water gathered in the base of the hole. Knowing the precise location of each soakage was extremely valuable knowledge. It is also sometimes called a native well. Wells were covered to keep them free from fouling by animals. This involved blocking the well with dead branches and uprooted trees. When the wells fell into disrepair, people would bail the well, using the coolamon to throw slush against the wall. This would set like a cement wash and help to hold loose sand, preventing it from falling into the water.