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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 3

I Background

II Early European Settlements

III Assessment Of Available Water Resources

IV Water Supplies For Goldmining Development

V Irrigation Development

VI Farm And Stock Water Supplies

VII Urban Water Supplies

VIII Wastewater Management And Treatment

IX Water Quality Management

X Limnological And Water Quality Research

XI New Techniques In Water Resource Planning And Management

XII Legislation

XIII Conclusion

XIV List Of Abbreviations

XV Acknowledgements

XVI Plantations-high Productivity Resources



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Any study of the development and use of Australia's water resources must be set against the special characteristics of those resources. A history of technology should take particular account of those special features in order to gain a true understanding of the manner in which technology has been applied to the Australian water industry.

The first permanent European settlers, just 200 years ago, came from a green and pleasant land, with permanently flowing rivers, generally of good quality and without extreme variations between summer and winter flows. Droughts were virtually unknown, there were no arid areas and salinity of streams was unheard of.

They brought a corresponding sense of water values to Australia, not realising, at least initially, that this was a very different land. The rivers were small by European standards, though the country was vast. The stream flows fluctuated widely from year to year, from month to month, even day to day, and many of them ran dry in the summer.

There were large areas of desert and many salt lakes, and some promising soils turned out to be saline, or impervious to water, or both, and the high summer temperatures over much of the new land caused evaporation losses from farm dams on a scale not previously experienced by those intrepid settlers.

Australia is fortunate to have large resources of underground water, such as the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest in the world. The early settlers, however, confined as they were to the coastal fringe, were not aware of these vast resources of usable water and, in any case, lacked the equipment and the knowledge to exploit them even if they had known of them.

There was little relevant indigenous knowledge to guide them. The Aborigines, few in number, had adapted over several thousand years to Australian conditions, developing a nomadic system in which they moved from place to place according to the availability of food and water, with little or no cultivation but surviving by hunting animals and birds and gathering native plants. They lacked the tools to construct dams or dig for groundwater, and so relied essentially on free-flowing surface water resources. This system was unsuitable for, and unacceptable to the early Europeans, with their technologies of the Agricultural Age, and its emphasis on tilling, cultivation and water storage.

It is little wonder that Australia's early water technology, such as it was, and imported largely from the United Kingdom, proved inadequate for the task. This forced the development of local adaptation of the technology, as the new inhabitants learned about their strange and often hostile environment by painful experience. This was no bad thing for, although the early water technology was largely derivative, it was characterised by skilful adaptation, essential to the survival of the first settlements. That spirit of adaptation, and refinement and improvement has persisted, along with new technology developed in Australia because of the special features of this country's water resources.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 152 - 153, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher