After months of hard work, our virtual exhibition Drought, Mud, Filth and Flood: Water Crises in Australian Cities, 1880s-2010s went live on the Rachel Carson Center’s Environment and Society Portal.
In this exhibition, we invite visitors to consider the historical relationship of “water crises” of various kinds to the development of urban water systems, through the experience of the driest inhabited continent on earth, Australia. We have chosen a range of different departures from water-related business as usual—from shortage to flood, pollution to drainage—in the five mainland Australian state capitals from the late nineteenth century to the present. The part of this exhibition devoted to each city focuses thematically on just one or two kinds of crisis, while the timeline covers a wider range of events in each place.
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.
It really was a team effort, and I worked closely with Jenny Gregory and Daniel Jan Martin on the Perth sections. We were led by the always amazing Andrea Gaynor, and joined by our great colleagues Lionel Frost, Peter Spearritt, Martin Shanahan, Margaret Cook, Nathan Etherington, Elizabeth Gralton, and Susan Avey. A big thanks to the libraries, museums and other repositories for allowing us to publish their images with permission.