About the Exhibition

This exhibition arose from an Australian Research Council (ARC) funded research project on “Water and the Making of Urban Australia: A History Since 1900” (DP180100807). The project aims to produce the first integrated and comparative historical study of the provision, use, and cultures of water in Australia’s five largest cities from 1900 to the present, leading to new understandings of the historical drivers of today’s urban water systems and how these systems have historically impacted on human and ecological welfare. Such historical knowledge is critical at a time when the water systems of Australia’s largest cities are under growing pressure from environmental change and population growth. The research project seeks to contribute to the creation of more resilient and sustainable water systems by enabling us to learn from the past and by contributing to national and international conversations on urban water beyond technical solutions. The authors are grateful for the support of the ARC and the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, and in particular Jonatan Palmblad at the RCC, who coordinated the exhibition. We also thank the many institutions and individuals who provided images and reproduction permissions.

The Authors

Andrea Gaynor is Associate Professor of History at the University of Western Australia. An environmental historian, she seeks to use the contextualizing and narrative power of history to address contemporary problems.


Daniel Jan Martin is a designer, urbanist, and researcher based in the School of Design at The University of Western Australia. He studies urban ecology and hydrology in relationship to architecture and urbanism.


Elizabeth Gralton has a PhD in nineteenth-century French history from the University of Western Australia. Her research focused on contemporary reactions to and portrayals of the Paris Universal Exhibitions.


Jenny Gregory AM, is Emeritus Professor of History at The University of Western Australia, after a career at UWA that included time as Head of the School of Humanities, Chair of History and Director of UWA Press.


Lionel Frost is an associate professor in the Department of Economics, Monash Business School at Monash University. He is current President of the Economic History Society of Australia and New Zealand, and has published extensively on urban and economic history in Australia and North America.


Martin Shanahan is Professor of Economic and Business History at the University of South Australia and visiting Professor at the University of Goteborg (Sweden). He has written extensively on wealth inequality, business cartels, water markets, and climate change from the perspective of economic and business history.


Dr Margaret Cook is an environmental historian, cultural heritage consultant, a Post-Thesis Fellow at the University of Queensland, and an Honorary Research Fellow at La Trobe University. Her current research deals with the colonial settlement of central Queensland for the production of cotton in the 1920s, particularly gender, climate and water.


Nathan Etherington is a doctoral candidate at the University of Sydney and a registered architect. He has degrees in architecture and arts from Harvard and the University of Sydney and his research is located at the intersection of architecture, landscape, and urban environments.


Peter Spearritt is Emeritus Professor at University of Queensland. He is a critic of quick-fix solutions to urban water shortages, especially the building of desalination plants, when household water tanks and lowering household use of water would suffice in most instances.


Ruth Morgan is a Senior Research Fellow in the History Program at Monash University. Her current project, on environmental exchanges between British India and the Australian colonies, has been generously supported by the Australian Research Council and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. She is also a Lead Author in Working Group II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Assessment Report 6.


Dr Susan Avey is an architect and urban historian at the School of Commerce, University of South Australia. Her research interests include individual agency in the historical development of urban environments, discovering everyday lived experiences of cities through historical data as well as the potential of drawing as a historical research tool.