‘Fear the hose’: an historical exploration of sustainable water use in Perth gardens in the 1970s

Ruth Morgan


Most of Australia’s capital cities and towns have been on water restrictions since at least 2007. As metropolitan and regional water supplies continue to dwindle in the southern regions of the continent, water managers will impose tighter conditions on the use of limited resources. It is thus important to examine human attachments to their outdoor spaces to better understand how residents will potentially respond to such policies. For policies designed to reduce the domestic consumption of limited resources to succeed, Australians must perceive them as equitable in both their design and outcome. An historical perspective on contemporary sustainability issues such as water scarcity is useful to explain how present-day values and behaviours towards resource use have been formulated, shaped and renegotiated by those experiences of preceding generations. As outdoor water use is an important focus of current water efficiency measures, a more nuanced understanding of the meanings historically invested in certain gardens can provide insights into how residents can react to disruptions in their watering routines. Using 1970s Perth, Western Australia as a case study through which to analyse such reactions, I argue that the water efficiency measures enacted by the then Metropolitan Water Board overlooked the variety of socio-cultural meanings attached to suburban gardens and as a consequence, affected households unequally.

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