Water Value, Water Practice, and Changing

University of Wollongong
Research Online
Faculty of Science, Medicine & Health - Honours
University of Wollongong Thesis Collections
No Longer the Fantasy of an Endless Supply: Water
Value, Water Practice, and Changing Water
Availability in Illawarra Households
Jonathon Cook
University of Wollongong
Follow this and additional works at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/thsci
Recommended Citation
Cook, Jonathon, No Longer the Fantasy of an Endless Supply: Water Value, Water Practice, and Changing Water Availability in
Illawarra Households, Bachelor of Science (Honours), School of Earth & Environmental Science, University of Wollongong, 2013.
Research Online is the open access institutional repository for the University of Wollongong. For further information contact the UOW Library:
No Longer the Fantasy of an Endless Supply: Water Value, Water Practice,
and Changing Water Availability in Illawarra Households
Current discourse places water value within rigid, established boundaries characterised by simplification and
categorisation. This research seeks to move beyond established categories that limit the understandings of
value. The thesis draws on the histories and experiences of the Australian environment to expose new ways to
think about values and practices associated with water. Focusing on the outdoor area of the home, networks of
water storage and distribution are explored to capture the complex, diverse, and changing values connected to
water. In this thesis, the phrase ‘water availability’ is used to describe different ways in which ‘availability’ of
water varies. These ways include variable rainfall, drought, regulatory factors such as water restrictions, and
sociocultural factors such as community pressure and expectation. In the context of climate change, it is
becoming likely that the availability of water is going to change in Australia. In some places it will decrease, in
some it will increase. In the Illawarra region of New South Wales, it is not entirely clear. As such research into
how individuals and households cope with differing water availability may reveal something about how
individuals and households might cope in the context of climate change.
This research focuses on the values and practices associated with water in the outdoor areas of the home, and
the relations between value, practice, and changing water availability, among Illawarra households Through a
mixed-method approach – including semi-structured interviews, water diaries, and diary-interviews - this
thesis seeks to address an overarching aim, to investigate how outdoor household water is valued, in the
context of changing water availability. To explore the values of water and the contexts in which they occur, a
further two aims are explored. These aims are: (1) how are water values expressed through everyday outdoor
water practices? and (2) how do everyday water practices and values relate to water availability?
Values have been transformed by the relationship people hold with the outdoor area of their home,
particularly the garden. The everyday patterns and practices created by different water availability have created
a personal sense of responsibility, and shaped participants’ interactions with water. Previous experience of
water scarcity and history with the harshness of the Australian environment correlates with a practical
consciousness of water saving today. As a result of the personal history with water availability and the active
engagement with water today, water practices have been ingrained in the everyday water habits ofhouseholds.
Different water availability – particularly drought – reminds households of the importance of the outdoor area
and fosters a new perspective on how water is valued. A cultural change in how water is used is underway and
there appears to be a willingness and eagerness by households to attune their outdoor practices to the realities
of living in the driest inhabited continent on Earth.
Degree Type
Degree Name
Bachelor of Science (Honours)
School of Earth & Environmental Science
This thesis is available at Research Online: http://ro.uow.edu.au/thsci/57
Leah Gibbs
water values, outdoor water, water practices
This thesis is available at Research Online: http://ro.uow.edu.au/thsci/57
No Longer the Fantasy of an Endless
Supply: Water Value, Water Practice, and
Changing Water Availability in Illawarra
Jonathon Cook
This thesis is submitted in part fulfilment of the requirements for the award of
the Honours Degree of Bachelor of Science in the School of Earth &
Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong 2013.
The information in this thesis is entirely the result of investigations conducted by the author, unless
otherwise acknowledged, and has not been submitted in part, or otherwise, for any other degree or
Dated 16/10/2013
Jonathon Cook | PREFACE
Why This Project?
Putting into words the reasoning behind this project is difficult. The thought conjures up a
history of my life like the chapters of a biography. I didn’t know it at the time but growing up
in Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-North Coast was the beginning of my passion and
interest in climate change and sustainability. Geography quickly became the subject of choice
at high school and the knowledge of environmental complexity, population movement and
mapping techniques overtook somewhat, what I believed to be, worthless information;
information I thought to be irrelevant in my education. The curriculum of geography in my
final years of high school was strongly influenced by the concerns at that time; predominantly
globalisation, global warming and population rise. This sphere of influence moulded my
current awareness of the environment and gave meaning to the changing geographic world.
It was no surprise that geography became my most successful subject. However, I was not
convinced it was my future. I began university studying biology and continued it through
until the end of my third session. I made the move to human geography not because I wasn’t
enjoying biology but I knew geography could provide the cultural, social and anthropological
disciplines to fill a deepening void of disillusioned prospects. The fog of indecision was
clearing but it would shadow me for my entire undergraduate experience.
After graduating in human geography and having an equivalent major in physical geography
I still wanted more. It was a desire for change and the challenge of something new, something
different that led me to my honours year. The first person I approached was Dr Leah Gibbs
with the idea of climate change as the context for my year of research. Through a
collaboration of Leah’s previous research/experience and my passion towards climate change
and sustainability research, the idea of how water is valued in Illawarra households was
devised. Ignorant of the time constraints of the research, the scope of the project was
continually changing until the value of water was settled on outdoor water practices within
the context of different water availability.
Jonathon Cook | PREFACE
The fog that clouded many of my decisions and future prospects is now dissipating and the
road to the end of my honours year and beyond is clearing. I hope this research and any of my
future endeavours contribute in the field of human geography: a discipline I see as important
as any other, but far too often it is underestimated in the field of science.
Jonathon Cook |
Current discourse places water value within rigid, established boundaries characterised by
simplification and categorisation. This research seeks to move beyond established categories
that limit the understandings of value. The thesis draws on the histories and experiences of
the Australian environment to expose new ways to think about values and practices
associated with water. Focusing on the outdoor area of the home, networks of water storage
and distribution are explored to capture the complex, diverse, and changing values connected
to water. In this thesis, the phrase ‘water availability’ is used to describe different ways in
which ‘availability’ of water varies. These ways include variable rainfall, drought, regulatory
factors such as water restrictions, and sociocultural factors such as community pressure and
expectation. In the context of climate change, it is becoming likely that the availability of
water is going to change in Australia. In some places it will decrease, in some it will increase.
In the Illawarra region of New South Wales, it is not entirely clear. As such research into how
individuals and households cope with differing water availability may reveal something about
how individuals and households might cope in the context of climate change.
This research focuses on the values and practices associated with water in the outdoor areas
of the home, and the relations between value, practice, and changing water availability,
among Illawarra households Through a mixed-method approach – including semi-structured
interviews, water diaries, and diary-interviews - this thesis seeks to address an overarching
aim, to investigate how outdoor household water is valued, in the context of changing water
availability. To explore the values of water and the contexts in which they occur, a further
two aims are explored. These aims are: (1) how are water values expressed through everyday
outdoor water practices? and (2) how do everyday water practices and values relate to water
Values have been transformed by the relationship people hold with the outdoor area of their
home, particularly the garden. The everyday patterns and practices created by different water
availability have created a personal sense of responsibility, and shaped participants’
interactions with water. Previous experience of water scarcity and history with the harshness
of the Australian environment correlates with a practical consciousness of water saving
today. As a result of the personal history with water availability and the active engagement
with water today, water practices have been ingrained in the everyday water habits of
Jonathon Cook | ABSTRACT
households. Different water availability – particularly drought – reminds households of the
importance of the outdoor area and fosters a new perspective on how water is valued. A
cultural change in how water is used is underway and there appears to be a willingness and
eagerness by households to attune their outdoor practices to the realities of living in the driest
inhabited continent on Earth.
Jonathon Cook |
Firstly and foremost I would like to sincerely thank my supervisor Leah Gibbs. From the first
time I came to you some twelve months ago – slightly lost and confused – you have provided
much needed support and guidance. Thank you so much for all your help and dedication over
the past nine months. Just think, you’ll never have to answer my questions regarding word
count ever again.
To the other staff within Earth & Environmental Sciences, I thank you for the additional help
throughout the year. Thank you very much Elyse Stanes. You not only helped me with the
technology component of the project, but you also opened my eyes to the idea of water
availability. Without that assistance my project may have taken a completely different
Big thanks to the other Honours students. It was always nice catching up. It reminded me that
I wasn’t the only one going through this experience, particularly when things started to get
tough in those final weeks.
Enormous thanks to all twenty-two Illawarra residents who agreed to participate in this
research. Needless to say this wouldn’t have happened without you. Your cooperation,
flexibility and wealth of knowledge has been invaluable. I hope to do justice with the views,
opinions and experiences you have provided regarding water.
Last but not least my family. Despite constantly having at least one member overseas, your
support was crucial for getting me through these gruelling nine months. To my sisters Cathryn and Nicole - my apologies for never initiating any contact during this time (you
should be used to it by now), but thank you for making the effort. It was always nice to know
you were thinking of me. To my dearest mother, I cherish your love and support, even when
delivered via an incoherent text message. Finally, my father. Thank you so much for all the
work you did for me this year. I must have been a very frustrating child at times and I admire
your patience. The hours you spent going over my work has been priceless to this end result.
Thank you.
PREFACE ............................................................................................................................................... 3
ABSTRACT............................................................................................................................................ 5
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ...................................................................................................................... 7
TABLE OF CONTENTS ........................................................................................................................ 8
Chapter One - Introduction ................................................................................................................... 12
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 12
Problem ................................................................................................................................. 14
Practices ........................................................................................................................ 15
Values ........................................................................................................................... 16
Water Availability ......................................................................................................... 17
Aims and Objectives ............................................................................................................. 18
Thesis Structure .................................................................................................................... 19
Chapter Two - Literature Review ......................................................................................................... 21
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 21
Water Values ......................................................................................................................... 22
Defining Value .............................................................................................................. 22
Diversity, Change and Complexity of Valuing Water .................................................. 24
Compartmentalising Value ........................................................................................... 25
Water Practices ..................................................................................................................... 26
Value and Practice ........................................................................................................ 27
History and Wasteful Water Practices .......................................................................... 28
Water and Technology .................................................................................................. 29
Water Conservation....................................................................................................... 30
Water Availability ................................................................................................................. 31
Drought ......................................................................................................................... 32
Water Restrictions ......................................................................................................... 33
Climate Change ............................................................................................................. 35
Chapter Three - Methodology ............................................................................................................... 37
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 37
Ethics..................................................................................................................................... 38
Informed Consent.......................................................................................................... 39
Confidentiality .............................................................................................................. 39
Harm ............................................................................................................................. 40
Positionality .......................................................................................................................... 40
Mixed-Method Approach...................................................................................................... 42
Recruitment ........................................................................................................................... 43
Semi-Structured Interviews................................................................................................... 44
Water Diaries ........................................................................................................................ 46
The Diary-Interview Method ................................................................................................ 49
Data Analysis ........................................................................................................................ 50
Narrative Analysis......................................................................................................... 50
Diary analysis................................................................................................................ 51
Coding ........................................................................................................................... 51
Limitations and Conclusion .................................................................................................. 52
Chapter Four - Water Values and Practices .......................................................................................... 53
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 53
Water Practices and outside Water Networks ....................................................................... 54
Water Values and Past Lived Experience ............................................................................. 60
Water Saving Practices ......................................................................................................... 65
Rainwater Tanks ........................................................................................................... 65
Recycled Water ............................................................................................................. 69
Native Plants ................................................................................................................. 72
Conclusion ............................................................................................................................ 73
Chapter Five - Water Availability......................................................................................................... 75
Introduction ........................................................................................................................... 75
Stories of Abundance and Scarcity ....................................................................................... 76
Drought ................................................................................................................................. 80
Water Restrictions: Bringing Drought into the Home .......................................................... 83
Climate Change ..................................................................................................................... 90
Conclusion ............................................................................................................................ 92
Chapter Six - Conclusion ...................................................................................................................... 94
Implications for Policy .......................................................................................................... 99
Future Research .................................................................................................................. 101
APPENDIX A: PARTICIPANT INFORMATION SHEET............................................................... 123
APPENDIX B: PARTICIPANT CONSENT FORM ......................................................................... 125
APPENDIX C: ETHICS APPROVAL FORM ................................................................................... 127
APPENDIX D: PARTICIPANT DETAILS ....................................................................................... 129
APPENDIX E: QUESTION GUIDE FOR INTERVIEW .................................................................. 130
APPENDIX F: WATER DIARY TEMPLATE .................................................................................. 132
APPENDIX G: WATER DIARY EXAMPLE ................................................................................... 134
APPENDIX H: DIARY-INTERVIEW QUESTIONS........................................................................ 136
Figure 3.1: Page one of a completed example of the water diary……………………. 48
Figure 4.1: Peter’s backyard in Towradgi…………………………………………….57
Figure 4.2: John’s use of washing machine water…………………………………….59
Figure 4.3: Peter’s automatic drip irrigation…………………………………………..59
Figure 4.4: These three tanks owned by Frank have a capacity of 9,000 litres……….63
Figure 4.5: One of two rainwater tanks on Cary’s property…………………………..67
Figure 4.6: John showing how it is down with reusing his washing machine water….71
Figure 5.1: The front yard of Port Kembla resident Ron……………………………...78
Figure 5.2: The backyard of Lydia in Austinmer……………………………………...82
Figure 5.3: Judy fixing her pool filter…………………………………………………87
Figure 5.4: The view from Katherine’s backyard……………………………………..87
Chapter One
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
With the exception of air, water is the most omnipresent and vitally important element of the
environment (Strang, 2005), and because of this it lends itself to an analysis of the
relationship between the human experience and the construction of meanings and values.
Strang (2005. pg. 97) reminds us that ‘there is probably more poetry, more literature and
more art describing the form of water than any other aspect of the environment’ highlighting
the emotional sensations water conjures when people come into contact with it. For these
Jonathon Cook |
reasons, water must be used in a sustainable manner. Central to the concept of sustainability
is the realisation that water is finite – limitations exist on its ability to meet the needs of
present and future generations. The human experience with water is as diverse as the contexts
in which the interaction occurs (Strang, 2005). The themes encoded in water provide
‘important undercurrents of commonality’ (Strang, 2005. pg. 115) where water is a matter of
life and death, basis of our identity, and a symbol of power and agency. These commonalities
are located in the characteristics of water itself – including fluidity, transmutability and
aesthetics – and the shared physiological and cognitive processes that form human
experiences. By acknowledging the qualities of water and the environments it occupies, water
is inescapably the most vital resource to humans’ continued existence.
In a space where water networks are rendered visible, the outdoor area of the home is both an
arena and agent for water practices (Head and Muir, 2007). The outdoor area serves as a way
of thinking about nature and culture and how they influence one another. Philosophically,
Francis and Hester (1990. pg. 2) viewed the garden as a balancing act between ‘human
control on one hand and wild nature on the other’. As an arena and an agent, the outdoor area
of the home is loved and cherished. The passion engendered in this domain, and the
everyday, habitual engagement between human and non-human nature provides significant
potential for a cultural shift of household water use.
Changing water availability has placed water at the forefront of public consciousness. When
large parts of Australia were suffering from water scarcity and failing water systems, a key
motif for Australians was the need to adopt a ‘cultural change’ in relation to water (Strang,
2005; Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Gardiner, 2008; Sofoulis, 2011). Understanding the
convergence of cultural meaning, social practice and technology is imperative in recognising
outdoor water use patterns and attuning the practices and attitudes to the realities of living in
the driest inhabited continent on earth (England, 2009). Allon and Sofoulis (2006) criticise
dominant discourses and frameworks of demand management as inadequate as they overlook
the values and patterns of everyday water practices rendered meaningful and ignore ‘where
consumption habits are collectively acted out, maintained and subject to change’ (pg. 46).
As we understand it, culture is a combination of ‘values, practices and interactions, involving
both human and non-human forms, sociotechnical systems and technologies’ (Allon and
Sofoulis, 2006. pg. 54). In order to achieve a cultural shift in the way water is used in
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
Australia for a sustainable water future, Allon and Sofoulis’ (2006) research - ‘Everyday
Water’ - concluded with the need for better and ongoing understanding of the values and
cultural meanings influencing domestic water consumption.
This study contributes to a growing body of literature on the commonalities and differences
on the culture of water (Gibbs, 2006; Jackson, 2006; Head and Muir, 2007) and the values
and meanings that embody that culture (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006). Drawing from the idea of
‘Big Water’ provided by Sofoulis (2005) in which Australia’s water systems embody the
fantasy of endless water supply and Strang’s (2004) analysis of the unreceptive nature of
domestic users to conserve water, this research argues that the outdoor area of the home is
both an agent and site for changing water values and practices.
The theoretical framing of this research draws on moves within human geography and
elsewhere to move beyond water and society as separate entities. This study provides a
conceptualisation of the complex, diverse and entangled meanings of relationships between
humans and water, and the processes that pervade water practices. Drawing on cultural and
social geography, environmental conservation and resource studies, and behavioural studies,
this research attempts to ‘de-fog’ (Sofoulis, 2005. pg. 448) the cultural domain in discourses
of water values by integrating a sociotechnical perspective. This perspective defines society
by the human and nonhuman elements embedded in everyday life to inform researchers about
how practices and values function.
This study focuses on water availability, a concept that aims to encapsulate a range of
different ways in which ‘availability’ of water varies, such as those experienced within the
Illawarra over the past decade. Extending from the physical realm of water availability that
deals with factors including drought (Willis et al., 2013) and variable rainfall (Gibbs 2006 &
2010; Gill, 2011) to sociocultural determinants including scarcity (Kaika, 2003; Hansen,
2009; Mukheibir, 2010), water restrictions (Harman et al., 2008; Sherval and Askew, 2012;
Sherval and Greenwood, 2012) and policy (Hansen, 2009; Askew and Sherval, 2012), this
study intends to inform thinking about values associated with water. By applying the notion
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
of water availability to a study of outdoor areas of the home, this study seeks to explore
values as diverse, interconnected, complex and susceptible to change (Gibbs, 2006).
The severity of recent droughts and water restrictions is attracting increasing attention in the
field of human geography. Much of this interest surrounds attitudes (Syme et al., 1983; Cary,
2008; Pearce et al., 2012), water consumption practices (Gregory and Di-Leo, 2003; Head
and Muir, 2007; Sofoulis and Williams, 2008) and water management (Taylor, 2007; Muller,
2007; England, 2009; Parker, 2013) associated with changing water provisions in Australia.
Through the lens of contemporary outdoor areas of the home, this study will contribute to a
repositioning of water values within the suburban context, and enmesh humans within, rather
than outside, nonhuman elements of nature. Through an evaluation of both outdoor household
practices and how the availability of water varies, this repositioning will be discussed in
terms of the interconnections between human and non-human elements. The dominant
discourses and frameworks for thinking about water values overlook the complex and ‘messy
terrains’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006. pg. 46) where values and practices are rendered
meaningful. The outdoor area of the home is one place in which the ‘messy terrains’ are acted
out and involve multifaceted, interconnected, complex and entangled relationships that form
particular places.
A focus on practice provides important points of intersection with previous research. Given
the imperative of water conservation for household sustainability and climate change
mitigation, it is crucial to understand what factors are influencing practices. An awareness of
these factors will inform water managers and policy makers how to best encourage water
conservation practices (Dolnicar et al., 2012). Despite the imperative of developing water
conservation practices among households, relatively limited research has focused on this area
to date (Hurlimann et al., 2009) and therefore little is known about Australians’ actual water
conservation practices. Providing baseline data about households in the Illawarra, this study
seeks to address the gap by contributing knowledge about Australian practices towards water
conservation in the outside area of the home.
This research also aims to investigate the relationship between attitudes and practices. It has
been well established by previous authors that while it is ultimately practices and behaviour
that matters, attitudes are known to influence intentions and practices (Cary, 2008; Randolph
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
and Troy, 2008; Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010; Gilbertson et al., 2011). While past research
has focused on the attitude-practice relations with water (Head and Muir, 2007; Hurlimann et
al., 2009; Gilbertson et al., 2011), in this study this relationship is placed within a domain of
values. It has become known that values do not necessarily translate into actual practice;
referred to as the ‘value-action gap’ (Blake, 1999). A number of studies have found that
despite a high value placed on water, actual water conservation practice remains weak
(Gregory and Di Leo, 2003; Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010). Through a mixed method
approach, this study aims to gauge a greater understanding of the value of water held by
research participants and whether this translates into consistent or contradictory water
There is no single value for water; rather water attracts an ensemble of meanings dominated
by historical and geographical circumstances and cultural, practical and social contexts
(Jackson, 2006). The values associated with water are diverse, changing and complex (Gibbs,
2006). The lack of consensus in the definition of ‘value’ implies the need for further
examination into its concepts and discourses that shapes meaning. In contemporary
environmental management, ‘valuation’ is the concept most often used to express the value of
goods and services to provide scientific measurements and observations (Farber et al., 2002).
By reducing invaluable and complex ecosystems through commoditisation a monetary value
is placed on nature. This study avoids the road of simplification and categorisation of value
that presumes a degree of homogeneity in water.
This research draws on the knowledge and experience of the Australian environment to
provide a way of thinking about water and value that challenges the narrow, dominant,
contemporary approaches to valuing water. Drawing from a human geographic and social
science approach of multiple knowledge of Australian water, this research seeks to move
beyond the generic analysis of valuing water to a study of a particular place characterised by
particular conditions. In reference to the values of water this research will particularly be
referring to the work of Gibbs (2006; 2009; 2010) and Sofoulis (2005; 2011; 2013) who have
informed this research about the interconnected nature of values. The values people place on
water cross ‘traditional’ (Gibbs, 2006. pg. 77) categories of value and the work by Gibbs and
Sofoulis has provided a greater nuanced understanding of these values. They remind us that
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
the values of water are not formed within rigid, established boundaries, but they move away
from the hegemonic approaches. These ideas are strongly represented in water availability
and household water practices as values may change according to the ways water is
delivered, how much is presented, and the restrictions employed on its usage.
Water Availability
In this thesis ‘water availability’ describes a range of different ways in which the
‘availability’ of water changes. These encapsulate physical factors such as: variable rainfall
and drought; regulatory factors such as water restrictions; and social and cultural factors such
as pressures and expectations that neighbours exert on one another. In the context of climate
change, it is becoming likely that the availability of water is going to change in different parts
of Australia – in some places it will decrease, in some it will increase (CSIRO, 2007; Orlove
and Caton, 2010; Gibson et al., 2011; Gill, 2011; IPCC, 2013). In the Illawarra, it is not
entirely clear. According to the Department of Environment and Climate Change (2008) the
Illawarra region is expected to experience increased rainfall during summer and drier winters
and springs, however the degree of change is still uncertain. It strikes us then, that
researching about how individuals and households cope with differing water availability may
reveal something about how individuals and households may cope in the context of climate
The availability of water influences patterns of human interaction with water and shapes
lifestyle and livelihood (Hurlimann et al., 2009). The impacts of water availability,
particularly drought, have been evident across Australia’s landscapes and its communities.
Through the histories and stories associated with drought, it has become synonymous with
rural hardship and impacts on regional and rural economies. However, in recent times another
image has emerged. The effects of drought have extended to the outdoor areas of urban and
rural homes where restrictions have been imposed in an unprecedented number of locations
(Chong and White, 2007).
The changing rainfall patterns and lower stream flows at the beginning of this century led a
focus on conservation measures and management initiatives. These predominantly targeted
outdoor water practices in the form of water restrictions (Tapsuwan et al., 2007). The concern
raised in this study is that as water availability poses uncertainties in water supply, outdoor
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
water use continues to incorporate a significant portion of domestic water demand. This study
examines the impacts of rationing methods, such as water restrictions, to gauge how practices
have changed during these periods of demand and whether there is a correlation between the
prohibition of outdoor water use and water values.
Aims and Objectives
This study explores the sociocultural and environmental context in which water is valued and
used in the outdoor area of Illawarra households. This coastal region of south-eastern
Australia is characterised by rainfall variability (Gill, 2011). This variability has been no
more evident than in the past decade as the Illawarra experienced a climatic transition from
severe drought and water scarcity to the onset of high rainfall and water abundance (OECD,
2010; Mukheibir, 2010; Akter and Bennett, 2011; Risbey, 2011). The unique topography and
rainfall variability of the Illawarra has created an ideal location to investigate the value of
water and the subsequent practices, attitudes and conceptualisations of those values in the
context of rainfall variability, and changing water availability. This research encompasses the
suburbs of the coastal fringe of the Illawarra from Austinmer to Shellharbour. Covering a
range of social demographics, the makeup of the Illawarra enriches the research to allow an
exploration of demographic differences that are said to drive environment decision-making
(Hines et al., 1987; Barr et al., 2005).
The overarching aim of this thesis is to investigate how outdoor household water is valued, in
the context of changing water availability. In answering this question, this work seeks to
contribute to a body of research that explores how water is meaningfully positioned within
the sociocultural environment of a region. Understanding this value is integral to the
development and implementation of strategies to reduce outdoor household water
In addressing this overarching aim it must be acknowledged that these values are enveloped
within a range of cultural and environmental contexts. To explore these contexts, this
research will seek to answer two specific aims:
1. How are water values expressed through everyday outdoor water practices?
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
2. How do everyday water practices and values relate to water availability?
By evaluating the importance of particular water practices, this thesis seeks to determine
whether practices are consistent with water values and how practices have changed over time.
With rainfall variability experienced in the Illawarra, the second aim attempts to explore
whether the practices, attitudes and values of water have been influenced by changing water
availability. It is hoped that this work will contribute to the progress of water conservation
measures and development of strategies towards a cultural shift in water intensive household
Thesis Structure
The analysis of this thesis commences in Chapter Two, the literature review. As the section
that lays a platform for the growth and development of this research, this chapter
contextualises the value of water within a broader body of academic literature on household
water practices. Different water availability are introduced in Chapter Two to express how
they relate to the discourses of water practices and values.
Chapter Three outlines the methodological design introduced to address the aims and
objectives of the research. The mixed method approach is discussed to introduce the three
qualitative techniques; the semi-structured interview, the water diary and the diary-interview.
Why these techniques were chosen, their relevance within the research and their effectiveness
for meeting the aims of the research are discussed.
Chapter Four is the first of two analysis chapters. The value of water is explored through a
historical and contemporary context. Emerging from the overarching aim of the research,
everyday outdoor water practices are discussed within this context. Evidence based
arguments are presented to address the complex nature of outdoor water practices, water
value, and water history more broadly.
Chapter Five introduces the overarching context of the research in ‘Water Availability’.
Cross cutting themes emerged from the qualitative methods – including drought, water
restrictions and climate change and their meanings and values in regards to water availability
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
are discussed. This chapter draws out these meanings and evaluates how different water
availability affects how water is valued and how it impacts patterns of water practices in the
wider sociocultural environment.
Lastly, Chapter Six concludes the thesis by discussing how the aims and objectives have been
addressed, and summarising the findings from the qualitative analysis. Suggestions for
further research are outlined to strengthen the understanding of the sociocultural and
environmental influences on household outdoor water values. This is followed by the
competing interests and competition for water in Australia and implications for further policy
Jonathon Cook | Introduction
Chapter Two
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
Literature Review
This chapter seeks to provide a synthesis of a body of literature relating to water, introducing
relevant theoretical perspectives that aim to contextualise water within the household. By
drawing from a multidisciplinary approach, particularly social sciences and humanities
disciplines, this chapter brings to light the different approaches to valuing water and the
contexts in which they occur. This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section,
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
entitled ‘Water Values’, explores how value is defined and conceptualised, and the intricacies
of valuing water. The second section is entitled ‘Water Practices’ and draws together threads
of literature by presenting concepts of outdoor water use crucial to this thesis. This section
delves into traditional water consumption in Australia while analysing modern values and
practices associated with household water use. Within the context of climate change and
future water variability, the final section of the literature review, ‘Water Availability’,
examines three areas of water availability: drought, water restrictions, and climate change.
Water Values
Defining Value
The value of water is slowly becoming a broad and theoretically diverse topic among
researchers. New ground is forming to address the issues of ‘value’ and according to Farber
et al., (2002) this period of development is underway through decision-making by individuals
and communities. In the context of increasing environmental and ecological awareness, the
definition of the term ‘value’ draws on philosophical and economic traditions (Gibbs, 2006;
2010). Graeber (2001) views the value of water as situated within patterns of groups or
individuals in a larger society of which these individuals are apart. According to Howitt
(2001) and Gibbs (2006) the term is used within a broad dictum of ecological sustainability,
social justice, economic equity and cultural diversity.
Looking at specific examples of value and practice within arid and semi-arid central
Australia, Gibbs (2006) looks to conceptualise the value of water outside the dominant
discursive structure of reductionism, anthropocentrism and cultural specificity. Rather than
separating and simplifying value, Gibbs proposes a new framework for valuing water through
the variability of social, cultural and ontological aspects to capture an understanding of
thinking about water and the relationships between the human and non-human world. Gibbs
(2010) describes the current dominant approach to water valuation as defined through
scientific observation and measurement of goods and services. This approach provides the
foundation of her argument that current attitudes to water valuation are based on Eurocentric
knowledge. This paper provides a multidisciplinary approach to decentre current thinking of
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
water values and highlight the trend of separation and categorisation in environmental
A vast range of studies has acknowledged the gross simplification of water as a monetary
value (Raucher, 2005; Jorgensen et al., 2009; OECD, 2011). Ioris (2011) presents a strong
criticism to current literature that presents a reductionist interpretation of monetary value of
water. The value of water must be understood as a confluence of human and non-human
interaction (Gibbs, 2006). Ioris (2011) describes water as simultaneously capturing material,
discursive and symbolic power that manifests in specific relationships. This power is valued
according certain socionatural relations and derived from interactions within specific
geographical and historic conditions (Ioris, 2011). This strand of thought understands water
values as ‘enduring outcomes of past experiences that precipitate, and are stored, in the
discourse, morality, and imagination of human societies’ (Ioris, 2011. pg. 874). That is to say,
water encapsulated knowledge (Allison, 2002; Gregory and Di Leo, 2003; Sofoulis, 2013),
socio-economic differences (Wutich, 2009; Laves and Choy, 2010; Sinclair et al., 2012),
material pleasures, such as gardens, water features etc. (Higgs and Coghlan, 2001; Head and
Muir, 2007; Gardiner, 2008), and satisfied and unsatisfied aspirations (Shove, 2010).
Ioris (2011) introduces the concept of ‘water value positionality’ as a way of introducing
meaning and connectedness into the valuations of water that have become clouded by
misinterpretation and misunderstanding within society. That is to say, water values are
formed by ‘positions of values’ (pg. 885) that endure and change according to spatial and
temporal variability and the interconnected values that are withheld in those positions. These
interconnected values have been extensively studied by social researchers as they attempt to
de-categorise (Sofoulis, 2005) and redefine (Jackson, 2006; Ioris, 2011; Sofoulis, 2011) the
value of water.
The understanding and ability to care for what is valuable is determined by the extent to
which something is meaningfully positioned within the cultural and spatial domain of our
lived experiences (Thyer et al., 2009; Orr et al., 2011; Moy, 2012). Despite a plethora of
academic research attempting to capture the innate complexity of water value, disciplinary
boundaries continue to prevent a conceptual understanding of how water is valued and
understood within society. The increasing need to create appreciation of the value of water
demonstrates a changing paradigm in water research: one in which the meanings, practices
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
and values of water are no longer generated by economic-derived models or by a monetary
value (Raucher, 2005; Ioris, 2011; Sofoulis, 2011), but understood through an interconnected
system of social, cultural and environmental discourse (Gibbs, 2006).
Diversity, Change and Complexity of Valuing Water
The values associated with water are intricate, diverse, place specific and most of all
changing. Rather than defining values of water into specific categories, Gibbs (2006; 2010)
highlights the variability of water to articulate and improve the understanding of water
values. She proposes the use of variability as a framework for valuing water to embrace
‘diversity, change and complexity, and emphasis[e] the complex interconnections between
water, humans and the non-human world’ (Gibbs, 2006. pg. 79). Valuing variability can
involve different approaches that ultimately foster a more complete and complex
understanding of the value of water. Along with defining values within a generic category,
values have so often been described static and simple. However a great deal of literature has
emphasised the importance of acknowledging values as changing (Ioris, 2011), diverse
(Ciancanelli, 2010; Larson et al., 2010) and complex (Jackson, 2006; Gibbs, 2010), and
valuing variability is another means of narrowing the gap between the nature-culture divide
(Gibbs, 2006).
Past research has ignored the dynamic representations of value. Gibbs (2010) encapsulates
the importance of these concepts within environmental valuation. There has been a tendency
to oversimplify the diversity of values by representing them in a number of different
environmental discourses and failing to recognise the diverse meanings, views and
understandings that underlie values (Gibbs, 2010). According to Howitt and Suchet-Pearson
(2006), oversimplifying the interpretation of diversity can further marginalise particular
people and values, similar to the effect of categorising values. The diversity of water is
represented by its range of uses and what those uses have been influenced by.
Within the developing prominence of management and policy making research, change is
frequently overlooked (Gibbs, 2010). In literature, reviews of environmental management,
such as adaptive management (O’Hara, 2007; Mukheibir, 2010; Office of Water, 2010;
National Water Commission, 2012; IPCC, 2013), have implicitly represented change but
have so often associated value as static or unevolved. In contrast to water management,
Sofoulis (2005) describes a sociotechnical perspective on water behaviour and attitudes at the
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
individual level. While water management literature may see values as fixed, Sofoulis’s
(2005) sociotechnical perspective on water behaviour and attitudes at the individual level
paints a different picture. Her research in western Sydney aimed to ‘de-fog’ the dominant
cultural domain of current water consumption discourse to acknowledge that societies’ values
of water are defined through human and non-human elements. Sofoulis questions ideas of
change within an individual’s behaviour and practice to water, stating that practices are not
necessarily a direct product of values; rather values can change as a result of practice.
The interconnected categories of water avoid the marginalisation and simplification of values.
Jackson (2006) discusses how through resource management cultural values are separated
from economic, environmental and social values. Such ideas of simplification,
compartmentalisation and categorisation have complicated the understanding of valuing
water and management processes associated with water by dividing the process involved and
ignoring interconnected relationships and influences. Sofoulis (2011) reports on the changing
urban water industry and identifies a number of areas for further research into valuing water.
Sofoulis states the importance of gaining clarity on what counts as ‘value’. Values of water
warrant an enhanced understanding of the diverse attachments to water, emotional and
symbolic, so that the water sector can grasp the cultural logistics that underlie individual
behaviours, practices and attitudes (Sofoulis, 2011). The value of water is forever changing,
diverse and complex. As social, cultural and historic dimensions of water are acted upon,
research will continually add to these systems and frameworks developed by academics such
as Gibbs and Sofoulis to evaluate the effectiveness of current water regimes and
infrastructure at the household level.
Compartmentalising Value
From economics and engineering to human geography, the past decade has seen literature on
the monetary value of water (Jorgensen et al., 2009; David, 2010; OECD, 2011);
methodologies on valuing water (Buenfil, 2001; Ashbolt and Maheepala, 2008); decentring
dominant thinking (Gardiner, 2008; Gibbs, 2010; Moy, 2012); and exploring the perceptions
of different groups on water value (Goemans, 2006; Buxton et al., 2012). Despite the broad
interpretation of literature on the value of water, the general perceptions of valuation within
environmental management show a predisposition to separate and categorise values in order
to manage usage.
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
There is increasing interest by researchers to find sustainable solutions to the urbanisation
and economic development of water and many are seeking the ‘triple-bottom-line’ method to
account for their rationale (Raucher, 2005; Gibbs 2006, 2010; Griggs, 2011; Sofoulis, 2011;
2013). The ‘triple-bottom-line’ management framework accounts for the economic,
environmental and social sustainability actions, in contrast to the financial and operating
costs alone (Griggs, 2011). Griggs (2011) explains the concepts and the individual
sustainable needs for the ‘triple-bottom-line’ framework. Griggs advocates for the
implementation of the concept and the important roles it can play in the urban water system.
However, not all researchers are for the ‘triple-bottom-line’ approach. In contrast to Griggs,
Gibbs’s (2006; 2010) experience of the Lake Eyre Basin forces her to doubt the use of the
three ‘categories’ and other dominant socionatural guidelines. The categorisation of these
values limits their understanding, and fitting these realities into generic categories
marginalises the interconnections and reduces the idea of value through ‘separation and
simplification’ (Gibbs, 2006. pg. 75). The separation of values conforms to western science
thinking of categorisation and, as Byrne et al., (2003) state, this compartmentalisation of
values may only provide an ‘ideal of equity’. The broad acceptance of the ‘triple-bottom-line’
framework provides a problematic mismatch between the technical and scientific expertise of
water managers, such as engineers and economists, and the environmental and social science
experts on water usage and allocation (Sofoulis, 2013). This problem is evident within the
context of climate change where water scarcity is evident and water availability is
Water Practices
Cultural understandings of water provide important contributions to the imperative global
issues of sustainability. This is particularly so when analysis is merged with the
interrelationships of everyday household practices and broader sociotechnical perspectives of
storage and distribution (Head and Muir, 2007). The themes associated with water embody an
array of meaning; including ‘life and death, as a generative and regenerative force, as the
basis of identity, and as a symbol of power and agency’ (Head and Muir, 2007. pg. 4).
Through a review of the literature, this section describes the areas of water practice that have
been studied in the past. While some studies have conducted literature reviews regarding
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
water practices (Po et al., 2003; Po and Nancarrow, 2004; Dolnicar and Saunders, 2006;
Hurlimann et al., 2009), most are limited by focusing predominantly on issues of water
recycling rather than water availability and values.
Value and Practice
Whether households are water efficient or water profligate, the conceptualisation and
measurement of water values tend to be ambiguous and inconsistent. This comes partly as a
result of the multidisciplinary nature of research on how society’s values influence practices.
Values can influence a range of human actions by determining social (OECD, 2002; Harman
et al., 2008; Sofoulis, 2011), cultural (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Head and Muir, 2007; Gibbs,
2009) and environmental (Dovers, 2000; Gregory and Di-Leo, 2003; Gibbs, 2010; Gibson et
al., 2011) desirability. Values establish personal priorities and initiate moral norms for people
to behave in a particular way (Larson et al., 2010). Larsen and Harlan (2006) expressed the
obligations of households to represent their outdoor area, particularly visible front yards, as
symbolic expressions of themselves and thereby conveying what is valued and expected.
Larsen et al., (2010; and Harlan, 2006) describe how practices may vary between the front
and backyards based on the desire of the household to present themselves in observable,
social settings.
The correlation between values and practices has not always been as clear as some studies
have anticipated. For many, a significant gap has presented itself between the attitudes one
holds and the practices one exhibits (Syme et al., 1983; Randolph and Troy, 2008; Cary,
2011; Gilbertson et al., 2011; Willis et al., 2011; Garcia et al., 2013). Blake (1999) refers to
this gap as the ‘value-action gap’. Sofoulis and Williams (2008) suggest that through a
sociotechnical perspective, it is not the values and attitudes that will shape water practices,
rather the practices that will shape attitude. For Sofoulis and Williams (2008), cultural change
can be accelerated by building or extending networks of ‘watersavers’ (pg. 55), which would
require embodying behaviours to create cognitive shift. However, previous research
highlights that contemporary household practices (Head and Muir, 2007; Ioris, 2011),
attitudes (Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010; Gilbertson et al., 2011; Dolnicar et al., 2012) and
technologies (Sofoulis, 2005; Gardiner, 2008; Millcock and Nauges, 2010) are products
encompassing cultural values that dictate functioning and management of a household. While
bodily repetition may create behavioural change, it is essentially the overarching value
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
system that determines understanding and awareness. Water practices are contextualised
within this cultural value system and reinforced through the physical enactment that may
include watering the garden, cleaning the pavements or filling the pool.
History and Wasteful Water Practices
An historical analysis by Davison (2008) argues that Australia’s current patterns of water use
are not the result of need, rather historical circumstances. The garden has been seen as
symbol of post-war suburban living (Beatley and Manning, 1997) and as a means to frame
and express cultural psychology (Thomson et al., 2006). People began to move out of the
cities during the 1940s and 1950s and had more money and time to spend in the outdoor area
of the home, their own piece of nature. Davison’s (2008) analysis of the history of the
Australian garden implies that the deeply ingrained aesthetic and the status of the household
garden is nearly ubiquitous throughout Australia, regardless of water availability. However,
Mullins (1981a; 1981b) demonstrates the importance of domestic water consumption in
maintaining a standard of living enjoyed by Australians. Although Mullins did not explore
this connection thoroughly, it is evident that high water consumption is important in
sustaining the household culture. Other researchers have explored the issue of intense water
usage within Australia. For example, Askew and McGuirk (2004) focussed on social
distinction and conformity as a means to explain high water usage in household gardens.
While Head at al. (2005) and Head and Muir (2006) demonstrated the importance of
maintaining the garden as a place where people engage in nature, other writers have
acknowledged socio-demographic factors (Hurlimann et al., 2009; Willis et al., 2011; Garcia
et al., 2013) that may potentially influence the propensity to maintain gardens and therefore
water use.
Australia has endured wasteful water practices for some time. Outdoor garden watering can
contribute to as much as 30-50% of domestic water use (Pigram, 2007), and Dovers (2008)
contends that these wasteful water practices exist because they have been actively encouraged
by the Australian government. As (Randolph, 2007) found, the problem with inappropriate
watering practices is the lack of education concerning water needs of plants and alternative
practices in the outdoor area of the home. Randolph (2007) found that not only were
homeowners generally unaware of the water use requirements of their garden, but also the
amount of water they were applying. The interaction of homeowners with their outdoor area
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
of their home tends to be mediated by some form of technology. As the role of technology in
outdoor water practices continues to grow, so does the literature to explore this interaction.
Water and Technology
Technology plays a significant role in how we, individually or as a collective, interact with
nature. Jelsma (2003) describes how we are entrenched within a ‘sociotechnical landscape’;
that is, we move around within this environment where society and technology are strongly
embedded with one another. This embeddedness between technology and society is crucial
for achieving sustainable water practices. If sustainable practices are to be accomplished
within Australia the social and cultural aspects of water use need to be aligned with technical
aspects such as design and purpose (Shove, 2003). Davison (2001, pg. xi) describes a view to
move beyond the ‘deeply familiar pre-occupation with efficiency’ imposed by dominant
discourses towards what Jelsma (2003. pg. 103) describes as a ‘re-moralisation of our
sociotechnical landscape’. This approach considers efficient water practices as normative
instead of requiring extra effort, and moves away from the traditional division of water
practice and technology.
Davison’s (2008) historical analysis of Australia’s domestic water patterns explores the
involvement of technology and correlated increase in consumption. He uses the installation of
the hot-water system as an example of a technological innovation that has had a marked
influence on the cultural evolution of watering practices in Australian domestic life. For
children raised in the 1950s and onwards in Australia, the idea of plentiful, ever-present
supply of water arriving to our taps when desired in the domestic sphere has become a
formative part of our sociocultural relationship with water. Through the technological and
institutional infrastructures for water delivery, Sofoulis (2005) characterised the water
delivery in urban Australia as ‘Big Water’; a system that embodies a historic fantasy of
endless supply and ‘the dream of making the desert green’ (pg. 48). The cultural norm of an
‘endless supply’ (Sofoulis, 2005; Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Gardiner, 2008) of water was an
integral part of the ‘Australian way of life’ (Allon, 1994. pg. 45 cited in Allon and Sofoulis,
2006). However, many social theorists (Shove, 2003; Davison, 2008; Sofoulis and Williams,
2008) have argued the need for consumers to be examined in the context of the sociotechnical
environment in which they operate, rather than as autonomous agents with free-choice of the
level of water usage. These arguments have a strong voice in sociocultural discourses of
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
water, but as Davison (2008) points out, while technological innovations have increased
water consumption in daily practices, a social and cultural change in the way water is valued
is also required.
Similar in the way Jelsma (2003) examines the variables that could change water behaviour,
Sofoulis and Williams (2008) highlight the influence of ‘cultural innovation’ in redistributing
the roles and responsibilities between water users, authorities and technologies, as it is within
these water actors where we are ‘co-evolving’ (Shove, 2003). For Sofoulis and Williams, if
people’s practices are embedded in this cultural process and the technologies conform to the
household culture, then this should be the point of focus to change the practices of
households in reducing water consumption. According to Strang (2004) and Kaika (2005),
the expectation of water as a naturally abundant good is the result of the discursive
disconnect between the networks of technology and supply and the household. They also
place this perception on the combination of privatising supply, technology that provides
misconceptions of endless supply and increasingly individualised socialisation. Strang (2004)
describes this socialisation process where behaviours are embedded as creating a condition
where, ‘domestic users are...impervious to efforts to conserve water’ (pg. 208). However, as a
place where water networks are rendered visible and are engaged on a daily basis, the outdoor
area of the Australian home provides an ‘arena and agent’ (Head and Muir, 2007. pg. 7) for
changing water practices and values.
Water Conservation
Water conservation is viewed within literature as pro-environmental behaviour (Clarke and
Finley, 2007). A vast amount of research has sought to gain an understanding of the
reasoning behind household efficient practices and attitudes and the factors involved in an
individual’s decision to conserve water (Moy, 2012; Gibson et al., 2013). Past research has
investigated how psychological factors have influenced water practices, including attitudes,
awareness and knowledge, concern for the environment, habits, and values, to mention but a
few (Gregory and Di-Leo, 2003). Understanding the roles of water value and attitudes are
important as we attempt to better understand the factors that guide individual choice
regarding environmentally-responsible behaviour (Axelrod and Lehman, 1993 cited in Clark
and Finley, 2007).
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
A significant body of research exists on factors that influence positive attitudes towards water
conservation. However, as previously mentioned, attitudes do not necessarily translate into
actual behaviour. Gregory and Di-Leo’s (2003) behavioural study found attitudes towards
water conservation were poor predictors of water conservation behaviour (Clark and Finley,
2007; Randolph and Troy, 2008; Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010; Gilbertson et al., 2011;
Dolnicar et al., 2012). As Ungar (1994 cited in Randolph and Troy, 2008) contends, the
environment is not an ideal domain where attitudes can predict behaviour. Sofoulis (2005)
and Shove (2003) go beyond these limitations to identify that consumption is the result of
sociotechnical considerations which may change slowly and unevenly. Residents may not be
able to change their behaviour quickly because of the ‘rigidities or path dependencies’
(Randolph and Troy, 2008. pg. 442) created by the different availability of water to the
household. An awareness and practice of water conservation involves understanding of
innovation, impacts and ingenuity of water saving practices as well as the desire to
continually develop and reduce consumption activities (Nancarrow and Syme, 1989;
Nancarrow et al., 1996; Nancarrow et al., 2002). In contrast, Middlestadt et al., (2001)
explore the relationship between knowledge and water conservation and found those who
hold a strong knowledge and understanding of water conservation regularly performed water
saving practices.
Water Availability
Growing demands are being placed on water resources through increased industrial water
use, urban populations and expanding irrigation. Water resources have been placed under
immense pressure over the past fifteen years as a result of persistent drought. Furthermore,
recent floods nationwide have re-ignited the debate regarding water resource allocation and
the need for further investment in water infrastructure (Chiew et al., 2011). However,
projected climatic models suggest that overall Australia will be faced with a drier climate as a
result of climate change. The increasing demand on water resources coupled with changes in
availability, timing and reliability of rainfall presents considerable challenges for
management and governance. These issues have attracted significant attention by researchers
who attempt to place current water availability in the context of future variability, uncertainty
and climate change. Here, these studies are reviewed within three areas of water availability:
drought, water restrictions and climate change.
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
In southeast Australia, the most recent drought that spanned over a decade placed immense
pressure on water resources. According to Chiew et al., (2011. pg. 608), the most important
outcome of the drought was the realisation that current water management approaches are
‘inadequate to deal with the high variability in water availability’. Predictions for future water
availability and demand are vital for informed policy and management decisions and several
studies have examined this area, particularly in the context of climate change (Hansen, 2009;
Shove, 2010; Askew and Sherval, 2012; National Water Commission, 2012). Karoly et al.,
(2003) investigated the impact of global warming on Australia’s drought conditions. They
concluded that although the ‘2002’ (pg. 14) drought was associated with natural variability of
the climate system the high temperatures matched climate model simulations of increased
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The evidence suggests it would be difficult, if not
impossible, to separate climate change signals from the water availability experienced in
Australia over the past fifteen years.
Work by Sherval and Askew (Sherval and Greenwood, 2012; Sherval and Askew, 2012;
Askew and Sherval, 2012) on the impacts of drought in Australia – particularly Australian
rural communities – has contributed significantly to further discussion surrounding the
impact of droughts and the myriad challenges faced by individuals and communities at the
forefront of drought. Sherval and Askew’s research has highlighted the urgency of a change
in the mindset and language in drought to position it in Australia as a normal component of
climate variability. Qualitative research by these authors on rural communities has recognised
that local experiences are paramount to developing government responses (Sherval and
Greenwood, 2012), future adaptation strategies (Sherval and Askew, 2012), and strategic
policy frameworks that support farmers and communities (Askew and Sherval, 2012).
Through examining current responses to drought (Sherval and Askew, 2012), the
understandings of different stakeholders (Sherval and Greenwood, 2012), and the policies
and programs that target specific drought-affected areas (Askew and Sherval, 2012), this
research has argued for continual re-examination of government approaches and drought
The perception of drought is explored by Woundenberg et al., (2008), whose qualitative
research looked to gauge the sociological impacts of drought on crop and livestock producers.
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
An interesting observation found in the study was that when questioned on their experiences
with drought, farmers recalled their memories from the viewpoint of their childhood growing
up on a farm. Taylor et al., (1988 cited in Woundenberg, 2008) found similar results. When
questioned on their history with drought, farmers tended to recall the most recent and severe
drought while growing up. Furthermore, Woundenberg et al., (2008) highlighted the
connection between members of a community affected by drought in south-central Nebraska.
Although drought was affecting the economy of a community, it also appeared to bring that
community closer together. ‘What happens to the farmer happens to everybody else’
(Woundenberg et al., 2008. pg. 100) was voiced by a farmer when questioned on the impacts
on the community, highlighting how a drought has the ability to draw community members
together in the fight against a mutual hazard. Sherval and greenwood (2012. pg. 255) speaks
of how drought has been perceived within Australian research as something to be
‘conquered’ (Wilhite, 2003), ‘an enemy to be vanquished’ (Ward and Smith, 1996), and as a
‘ravager’ (Sherval and Greenwood, 2012. pg. 255). It is no surprise that given this status, the
most recent drought to hit Australia raised calls to re-examine the fight against drought and
‘drought proof’ (Sherval and Greenwood, 2012) the region’s most vulnerable.
Water Restrictions
The impacts of climate variability, particularly drought, have been evident across much of
Australia’s landscape, histories, communities, and stories (Chong and White, 2007).
Although drought is synonymous with rural living, it also paints another picture. In urban
cities and towns, drought has extended to the outdoor area of the home where water
restrictions have been imposed to combat ‘discretionary’ (National Water Commission, 2007)
water use. The implementation of water restrictions is not a recent phenomenon. Keating
(1992 cited in Chong and White, 2007) recalls water use restrictions in the form of hosepipe
bans were introduced in Melbourne as far back as the early 1860s as a drought response
measure. Water restrictions have since been introduced Australia wide.
While a considerable body of literature exploring the economic impacts of drought is present,
far less attention has been paid to the social impacts. Syme and Nancarrow are among a small
number of researchers who have delved into these impacts of drought in Australia. Syme et
al., (2004) have looked into the impact of water restrictions on the mental health of
individuals who perceive the garden to be an important component of their lifestyle and who
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
have positive attitudes to gardening. They found that the impact of water restrictions,
particularly if those restrictions are prolonged, can lead to a reduced quality of life
(Nancarrow et al., 2002; Syme et al., 2004). Similarly, Harmen et al., (2008) found, in
relation to the social impacts of water restrictions to the Ballarat community, that outside of
economic issues, there was a concern regarding the health and well-being of residents. In
particular, the availability, quality and taste of the town water were major concerns expressed
by respondents. Nancarrow and Syme (2005) found individuals are becoming concerned in
terms of their social and environmental values. Water shortages may cause a re-evaluation of
values placed on water resources and the security of future water availability. Concerns for
the actual or potential loss of cultural sites or natural assets as a result of drought were also
expressed (Porter et al., 2005).
Water restrictions have primarily been implemented to target domestic water use in the
outdoor area of the home. While a substantial amount of literature exists that examines the
impact of water restrictions on outdoor practices (Head and Muir, 2007; Gilbertson et al.,
2011), the attitudes of Australian residents is beginning to be of interest to researchers (Cary,
2008; Randolph and Troy, 2008; Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010; Millcock and Nauges,
2010). While compliance with water restrictions does not necessarily arise from proenvironmental attitudes (Clark and Finley, 2007; Gilbertson et al., 2011; Dolnicar et al.,
2012), studies have shown that despite a deterioration in gardens, people with positive
attitudes towards the environment become more accepting of restrictions (Pearce et al.,
2012). Pearce et al., (2012) found in their research into the rural-urban attitude divide in
South Australia that while people living in rural and urban areas found the restrictions
necessary, residents believed there needed to be greater consideration regarding a number of
factors. These included location specific, social situations and the lived experiences of those
who the restrictions target; ‘for it is only where there is the motivation towards compliance
that water conserving behaviours are likely to follow’ (Pearce et al., 2012. pg. 413). In
contrast, when respondents believed the water shortage was not yet dire, Nancarrow et al.,
(2002) found that despite pro-environmental attitudes and a belief in the importance of water
conservation, this was not reflected in water wise practices.
Roseth’s (2006) study on Sydney dwellers discovered that water shortages were not a top
agenda in relation to other social and environment issues, even during severe water shortage
and restrictions. There has also been a large body of work conducted by water authorities and
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
government organisations that have attempted to provide greater insight into water
conservation and attitudes (Melbourne Water, 2005; CSIRO, 2002; Western Australia
Department of Water, 2009; Office of Water, 2010; Water Research Foundation, 2010). An
example of this work has been Nancarrow and Syme (1989) and Nancarrow et al., (2002) that
gauged the community attitudes to water restrictions in Perth. They found that the
implementation of acceptable water restriction policies since 1988 had become significantly
more important to residents, despite always being considered important.
Climate Change
Extensive literature exists that explores the impacts of climate change on water supply and
demand around the world. These studies have examined implications outside of Australia
(Clark and Finley, 2007; Grafton et al., 2011; Garcia et al., 2013) and the significance of this
relationship in Australia (Western Australia Department of Water, 2009; National Water
Commission, 2011; Risbey, 2011). Although current planning methods treat weather as a
fixed, stationary but uncertain process (Mukheibir, 2010), increasing research proves
something to the contrary. Milly et al., (2008) and Franks and Kuczera (2002) recognise that
the assumption of the climate as static or stationary is no longer valid under climate change or
natural availability. According to researchers, increased climate variability is predicted to
impact water resources and add pressure to the availability of future water supply in
Australia. For some, these climate change impacts are already taking place and transforming
Australia’s water security (Mukheibir, 2010).
Ethnographic research by Gibson et al., (2011a; 2011b) on household practices in the
Illawarra revealed discussions of sustainability and consumption in the context of climate
change. As the home is positioned as a ‘refuge or haven’ (Gibson et al., 2011a), it poses a
high potential as a site of climate change mitigation via changes to practices. However, the
images, consequences and responses of climate change do not necessarily resonate with
Illawarra residents (Waitt et al., 2010 cited in Gibson et al., 2011a). Gibson et al., (2011b)
highlight how the media can influence the perceptions of Illawarra residents. The binaries
that characterise the climate change debate – sceptics versus ‘believers’ – do not exist in
preference for a ‘contradictory mash of competing discourses’ (Gibson et al., 2011b).
Social science research is beginning to flourish within the complex interplay between
attitudes, practice and communication of climate change, with dedicated water researchers
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
emerging. Whitmarsh and Lorenzoni (2010) describe these fields as young compared with the
more established natural science fields of climate change. However, research is emerging at
the nexus of climate change and water regarding technology (CSIRO, 2002; Millcock and
Nauges, 2010), media (Syme et al., 2000; England, 2009), public health (Hurlimann, 2006;
Curtis and Oven, 2012) and communication (Cooper et al., 2011). When combined, these
related areas of research highlight the role of individuals and institutions in water use in the
context of climate change. Clark and Finley’s (2007) study in Bulgaria concluded that the
more an individual is aware and informed about climate change and global warming, the
more likely they are to implement water conservation practices in and around the home.
Similarly, Roseth’s (2006) study on community views regarding water shortages and drought
identified climate change as the second largest factor, that participants believed contributed to
water shortages, second only to other users’ wasteful water practices.
Within the research community, the efforts placed by researchers to better understand the
relationship between climate change and the water industry is significant. As this trend
continues, observed changes in urban water supply and demand under climatic projections
will complement existing research to reinforce the need for change in the way water is
consumed and valued in the outdoor areas of the home.
Jonathon Cook | Literature Review
Chapter Three
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
In the context of climate change and different water availability in Australia the value of
water and household water practices has become a multi-faceted area of research. Previous
research has shown that it would be difficult to comprehensively analyse how individuals and
households value and use water with a single method approach (Baxter and Eyles, 1997;
Philip, 1998; Seale, 1999). Therefore, it is ideal to incorporate a mixed-method approach to
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
capture the innate complexities and richness of context-dependent positioning of multiple
influences. The results of the qualitative methodology approach can then be synthesised into
a single analytical understanding. The design of the methodological framework of this study
aims to guide the data gathering process, interpretation, and understanding of the principles
and structures of qualitative research. Importantly, this guide allows the researcher to see
himself/herself as a subject of the research, to understand the significance of the analytical
views of the ‘outsider’, and view the world of individuals as they themselves see it (Baxter
and Eyles, 1997. pg. 505-506).
This chapter provides an overview of the aims and approaches of each the three qualitative
methods used to gather data for this research: semi-structured interviews, water diaries, and
diary-interviews. The first part of this chapter is an overview of the ethical considerations
relevant to this research. This is followed by a discussion of how my subjectivity has
influenced the interpretation of results, and the impact it may have upon participants. The
final part of this chapter will describe the qualitative components in greater depth. This will
include how these methods seek to minimise erroneous findings and how they will inform the
aims of this research.
According to Miles and Huberman (1994 cited in Tracy, 2010), ‘Naiveté itself is unethical’
(pg. 288). As qualitative researchers we must consider what is right and what is wrong in our
actions, our responsibilities and our obligations to those whose lives we are studying, to our
sponsors or supervisors and to ourselves (Montello and Sutton, 2006). Ethics is not just a
means but it is part of a universal end goal that results in qualitative quality (Tracy, 2013). It
is an unavoidable force in our research and our everyday life, not only on what we intend to
do, but ethics also implicates us through unconscious means.
The importance of the ethical procedure has been emphasised by a number of geographers.
Cloke et al., (2000) describe a historical lack of importance towards ethical consideration.
Clear interconnections are essential between ethical issues and the subjects for whom the
qualitative research has been directed (Cloke et al., 2000). The conduct of considerate,
insightful and ethical research depends significantly on how the unique relationships between
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
the researcher and his/her participants are dealt with at a particular time and place (Hay,
2005). As a consequence of this relationship ethics is an integral part of the research
procedure. Here, ethics is addressed through formal ethical guidelines associated with the
University of Wollongong (UOW) and critical reflexivity detailing ethical considerations at a
personal level.
All research at UOW is required to submit a formal ethical approval application to the
Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC). The guidelines identify the reasoning for the
research, those involved or potentially involved and what would be asked of the participants.
It provides a first step for the researcher to consider the social context of the research and
their responsibilities and obligations to those involved. The HREC focuses on the
responsibility of the researcher to his/her research subject and sets appropriate guidelines for
them to follow. The ethics guideline is primarily concerned with addressing matters of
privacy and confidentiality, informed consent and harm.
Informed Consent
The criterion for a participant’s involvement in a research method is more than a simple ‘yes,
I’d be happy to’. The principle means of providing informed consent allows prospective
research participants detailed information of what the research is about, the issues that are to
be explored and what is expected of them (Bryman, 2001). It is this information that will
allow an individual to provide an informed decision about whether or not they wish to
partake in the research. A ‘Participant Information Sheet’ (PIS) is designed for this purpose.
As can be seen from Appendix A, a PIS details the aims and objectives of the project and
outlines participant involvement. A PIS was mailed to prospective participants a week before
the intended commencement of the interviews to allow time for familiarisation with the
project and to ask any questions.
The nature of qualitative research often involves invasive measures into the private lives of
others. Bryman (2001) describes the right of privacy as a tenet that many of us hold dear, and
transgressions of that right in the name of the research are not regarded as acceptable. The
primary concern is the confidentiality of those private details, ensuring they are not accessible
to the public (Tracy, 2010). A ‘Consent Form’ [Appendix B] was provided to the participants
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
prior to the interview process that addressed the issues of confidentiality. The consent form
reiterates the purpose of the project and what will be required of the participant. In regards to
confidentiality, participants were given three options: for their name to be present in the
study, to be directly quoted using a pseudonym or for the information that was gathered to
remain confidential. Before the commencement of research on 14 May 2013, approval from
the HREC was received; ethics number: HE13/156 [Appendix C].
The mandatory ethical procedure enjoins researchers to anticipate and guard against any
consequences that could be harmful. The ethics procedure plays an important role as a ‘gatekeeper’ (Winchester, 1996. pg. 117) to advocate for social researchers to minimise potential
harm to participants and their relationship with the environment (Hay, 2005). This is again an
issue of confidentiality addressed through the formal ethics process. Records and identities of
individuals should be maintained according to their preference on the consent forms and care
taken when findings are published (Bryman, 2001). The nature of the qualitative methods –
with interviews and water diaries conducted in participants’ own home– limited the potential
for harm or harmful situations as a result of that process.
In the field of social science and human geography the researcher is seen as an instrument in
his/her research. They process different biographies, personal histories and lived experiences.
These subjectivities influence their research and it isn’t until an understanding of the role of
the researcher is exercised that it is complete (England, 1994). Baxter and Eyles (1996) write
of the importance of qualitative researchers to actively reflect on their methods and how they
relate to their subjects. They must acknowledge the researcher as a ‘positioned subject’ (pg.
505) consciously deliberating about ‘what we do, how we interpret and how we relate to
subjects’ (pg. 505). Evaluating my position within this project has allowed me to become
aware of my own values, beliefs and opinions towards household water practices and water
availability, and the potential impact this may have on the analysis and interpretation of the
data. Despite the inherent difficulties, it has been crucial for my opinions and thoughts to
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
remain my own around participants, ensure a neutral method procedure and structure, and
conduct data analysis without bias.
My position as a researcher at UOW in the School of Earth & Environmental Sciences is
likely to have some influence on the responses of the participants. For example, participants
may withhold knowledge or divulge information assumed to be what the researcher wants to
hear. For these reasons, neutrality during the interview and diary process was essential with
questions presented in a manner that would not intimidate nor influence the response of the
participants. These essential steps have contributed to development of a rigorous and reliable
methodology and provide a framework for the results to be analysed, interpreted and
presented. This has been a continual journey and as I concentrate on how my personal
interests and positionality impacts on the research process, I begin to emerge ‘not as an
individual creative scholar, a knowing subject who discovers, but more as a material body
through whom a narrative structure unfolds’ (Bruner, 1986. pg. 150). Box 3.1 discusses this
journey of positionality in this research.
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
Box 3.1: Positionality Statement
As a researcher I quickly became aware of how I shape, and can be shaped by the research. My
personal context, opinions and values can negatively impact the analysis and results of my
research if left unchecked. This research has illuminated aspects of climate change, water
conservation and water politics that I was either unaware of or my narrow and often stubborn
outlook could not account for. My education has provided me with the knowledge and
understandings that other people, for whatever reason, have not received. This luxury has given
me a comprehensive understanding about the environment, populations and their
interrelationship. However, it has also created a tunnel vision of acceptance and belief. Climate
change has been an area of research of particular importance and attention during my
undergraduate and high school years. I am not only a strong believer in the science but I also
possessed a low tolerance for those with an unsubstantiated idea of climate change as a process
of natural change or a general non-belief for the issue. For many years they were my true
thoughts and it wasn’t until I started this project that I began to acknowledge the opinions of
others, whether in concurrence with my ideologies or not. Growing up in Port Macquarie on the
NSW North Coast where water was tight for nearly a decade over the 2000s, the minority of
individuals that used water improvidently during this time were looked down upon by the
community and local media. It was early in this project I started questioning what will I do if a
participant is one of those individuals? Can I keep my emotions in check? I knew that I needed
to be able to control my thoughts and opinions, keep them to myself and maybe vent out any
frustration to my supervisor.
My personal history is what drew me to the study of water values. It has been challenging not to
judge and act narrow minded but that is why I chose an Honours year; to challenge myself by
taking a different avenue of education. I am looking forward to what is ahead and discovering
new things about myself and the discourses of water.
Mixed-Method Approach
The use of more than one qualitative research method has been advocated for some time.
Baxter and Eyles (1997) claim that a mixed methods approach provides an opportunity to
investigate consistencies and new insights that one approach may deliver to another.
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
Individually no method promises perfect results nor are they immune to shortcomings or
disadvantages. Combining more than one method of gathering data has helped minimise the
generation of erroneous findings (Philip, 1998). Furthermore, Philip (1998) states that during
the course of a research project, the combination of methods may allow for a wide range of
issues to be addressed that may not otherwise occur if a single method is employed.
The linkage between concepts and indicators of different methods is known as triangulation.
According to Seale (1999) triangulation evokes an analogy towards navigation or surveying.
Discovering one’s position on a map through an intersection of two landmarks rather than
one, a more definite position is identified. To couple the powers of a multi-method approach
and illuminate the lives of the participants and the contexts in which they are embedded, a
three-method approach was adopted for this research project: semi-structured interview,
water diaries and a diary-interview.
The strategies used to recruit participants were a reflection of the project aims and objectives.
Participants were required to meet two specific selection criteria: they needed to have a
‘standard’ backyard, typical of Australian homes, and have interactions with that external
component of the home. There were two techniques used for the recruitment stage: the use of
participants in the Australian Centre for Cultural Environment Research (AUSCCER)
Household Survey of 2009, and snowballing.
The AUSCCER Household Survey is a research project headed by Gordon Waitt of the
University of Wollongong (UOW). Using cultural research, the aim of Waitt’s project is to
build adaptive capacity for climate change mitigation and adaptation. In 2009 the survey
‘Tough Times? Green Times?’ was sent out to near 12,000 homes with 1,465 surveys
returned. Of the returned surveys a number of individuals indicated that they would be happy
to be contacted in the future. Despite a number of these respondents having already been
contacted through previous research at UOW, a list was made available of those who might
be willing to participate in this research. Through the list of contacts eighteen participants
agreed to the interview and water diary stages of the study. The initial contact was made over
the phone. An introduction to the researcher, the aims of the research, what was required
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
from the participant and the length of time of participation were discussed during the phone
call. For those who agreed to participate in the research, a follow up phone call was made the
following day to organise the time and place for the interviews.
Snowballing is a term used to describe the recruitment of a contact that can help recruit
another participant. It is important to be aware of the potential problems of this technique. To
avoid recruiting participants from a narrow like-minded circle, multiple initial contact points
around an organisation or group should be made. Targeting relatively disparate individuals
can also help address ethical considerations, such as confidentiality, as one participant may
ask about another. Through the success of the AUSCCER survey recruitment process, the
snowballing technique was only required for four individuals. As with the survey recruitment
process, participants were contacted over the phone.
A concern for a researcher is whether the participants represent an overall socio-demographic
of the study region. In accordance with Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS, 2011) data,
there are a number of sample characteristics that need to be addressed. Firstly, there was a
lack of voice in the younger age brackets. A number of factors account for this number. Many
people in this age group have day time jobs and families and stated they did not have the time
to participate in this study. A current trend among younger generations is that they tend to
live in apartments and townhouses that do not have a garden or occupy only a small area not
suitable for this project. The most pleasing aspect of the recruitment process was the diversity
in middle aged residents and older. This provided an array of different watering practices,
historical significances and values as participants expressed a strong diversity in lifestyle
factors. Appendix D provides some details about the participants; including age, occupation,
and how long they have lived in the Illawarra and their current residence.
Semi-Structured Interviews
Interviewing is used to gain insight into individuals’ experiences and meanings that are
attributed to their understandings of the world (Shurmer-Smith, 2002). Interviewing has
allowed a change in research from extensive to intensive. For this research, interviewing
lends itself to create the kind of explanations required to fulfil an emphasis on ‘explaining
processes, changing conditions, organisation, circumstances and the construction, negotiation
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
and reconstruction of meanings of identities’ (Cloke et al., 2000. pg. 150). The interview
process allows individuals to express opinions and provides a platform for their voice to be
heard. This voice is then subject to interpretation for a more nuanced understanding of how
water is valued in the Illawarra.
Semi-structured interviews create a flexible yet directed style of conversation. This method
allows a face-to-face opportunity for verbal communication between the researcher and the
participant (Dunn, 2005) and enables the researcher to understand how meanings differ
among people. This is the platform that differentiates the interview method from
questionnaires or surveys. As Hay (2005) explains, interviews can counter claims of public
opinion by providing a set of beliefs, events or experiences in participants’ own words. The
semi-structured interview can also provide a medium for the researcher’s own preconceived
opinions and tentative conclusions to be ‘checked, verified and scrutinised’ (Hay, 2005. pg.
81), disclosing misunderstandings on the researcher’s part. By giving an individual a voice
and a platform for experiences, practices and opinions to be recalled and recorded,
participants gain empowerment (Valentine, 1997).
The interview was guided by a set of predetermined questions and guides that defined an
inventory of issues [Appendix E]. During the progression of the interview stages, additional
and complementary issues were raised by interviewees, which formed integral findings to the
study. That is to say, the interview structure was not set on a rigid, unmovable set of guides.
Rather, the open-ended, discursive nature of semi-structured interviews gave space for
refinement and allowed modifications to occur. To further develop this process, several
practice interviews were conducted with family and friends. This provided an opportunity to
practice drawing on themes via in-situ questioning and offer feedback regarding my
language, demeanour and rapport.
Previous literature (Winchester, 1996; Flowerdew and Martin, 2005; Dicicco-Bloom and
Crabtree, 2006) and audio recording protocols recommended interviews be conducted inside
the participant’s home or within a private room at UOW. Conducting the interview within the
participant’s home ensures a familiar and comfortable environment that assists in developing
rapport between the interviewer and interviewee. Flowerdew and Martin (2005) raised the
issue of conducting an interview at a university where it may convey a formal setting
producing a stilted interview. Overall, two interviews were conducted at UOW. Through the
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
development of a strong rapport and ensuring a relaxed environment, the location did not
appear to hinder the interviewees’ responses. Developing this rapport was an essential
component of the qualitative process. A rapport creates trust and respect between interviewer
and interviewee and has allowed this research to establish connections that has resulted in
participants allowing the researcher to delve into their private lives.
Throughout the qualitative process, ‘mechanical phases’ (Hay, 2005. pg. 95) were required to
collect, transform and organise the data. The predominant technology used in this research
was an audio recorder. Audio recordings allow for a natural conversation style as the
interviewer is required to be more attentive and conduct critical listening rather than being
preoccupied with note-taking. However, if the interviewee is shy, timid or nervous an audio
recorder may also inhibit their response or they may become less forthcoming with
information. During the interview stage of this study, the audio recorder was positioned
partially out of view to avoid the potential downfalls of this technique. As part of the formal
ethics procedure, participants were provided the option for the interview not to be recorded
by these methods. However, all participants were happy for the recording procedure to be
carried out.
Water Diaries
Developing methodologies to explore the intimate moments of participant’s lives has been a
research challenge across many disciplines. Understanding the complex practices and
experiences of populations within the private sphere can pose ethical and practical dilemmas
for the researcher (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Wutich, 2009; Beal and Stewart, 2011). As a
result, social researchers developed the use of solicited diaries within their methodology as a
self-reporting tool to document the events of daily life (Bolger et al., 2003) or as a fixed
medium for the participants to reflect on their ongoing observations and experiences (Harvey,
Diaries capture life as it is being lived, time structures their creation, and they allow for the
layering of texts and the description of objects within a chronological framework (Sheble and
Wildemuth, 2009). Diaries have provided the field of human geography with an influential
set of methods to study particular human phenomena relating to valuing water. Solicited
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
diaries, by definition, are distinct in nature from personal or private diaries. They have been
designed by the researcher to address specific aims and objectives and are therefore written
by the author with full knowledge of its external consumption (Meth, 2003).
Like a fly on the wall, water diary entries capture ordinary events and observations that might
be neglected in other qualitative methods. Research diaries are an effective tool to study a
particular phenomenon that may otherwise be inaccessible to researchers (Sheble and
Wildemuth, 2009). The semi-structured format of the diary, as highlighted by Elliot (1997),
has an array of benefits. The participants are given more control on selection and omission of
content. Participants are then in an independent position to present a water-related
experience, behaviour or attitude outside of the researcher’s perspectives.
Sheble and Wildemuth (2009. pg. 1) state that ‘diaries range from highly structured logs to
unstructured narratives’. The water diary used in this project falls somewhere in between.
The semi-structured style of the water diary was designed to address the issues and concerns
raised within previous limitations of literature and the aims of the project. The daily diary
entry template [Appendix F] was organised such that the morning, lunch and evening time
periods were categorised as time-intervals. Despite past research incorporating smaller time
frames for daily entry (Beal and Stewart, 2011), the infrequent use of outdoor water guided
the decision to include longer time frames. Attempting to keep the entry as unstructured as
possible, the diary includes a short description of the requirements set out by the researcher.
For each day a space is included for daily thoughts and self-evaluation. This space is
particularly important as it allows for nuanced narratives to emerge and themes to develop.
Knowing the diary may become onerous for some participants and diary entry may
collectively lapse over too long of a period (Sheble and Wildemuth, 2009), the water diary
was kept for duration of two weeks. Similar to the semi-structured interview, a pre-test was
conducted for the water diary with family and friends. Again, this provided much needed
feedback as to the structure of the template and the effectiveness of the instructions. This pretest also provided participants with an example of a single day diary entry and Figure 2.1 is
page one of the example provided to participants. Appendix G provides both pages of the
water diary example.
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
Figure 3.1: Page one of a completed example of the water diary.
A vital requirement of the diary, and an aspect that differentiates it from the interview
method, is the time lapse between water-related practices and recording of those practices.
Participants were given the option of documenting their daily entry on paper or on the
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
computer through a USB, to make the process as accessible to individual participants as
possible. This process is a strength of the water diary as it captures and reports on the events
and experiences in their natural, spontaneous context. This is achieved by capturing
information at or close to the time of occurrence (Bolger et al., 2003). The time between an
event occurring and the recording of that event is crucial to data analysis. The gap in
recording can affect the reflexivity and selection of what participants’ record.
A level of participant commitment and dedication is required to avoid recording errors
through under-reporting, content selection bias and behaviour modifications (Sheble and
Wildemuth, 2009). Within the research of outdoor water use, these limitations did not appear
to have a substantial impact on the data-gathering process. The diary-interview method
enabled an evaluation of the water diaries and provided an insight into how these limitations
impacted daily entry.
The Diary-Interview Method
Described by Zimmerman and Wielder (1977), the diary-interview method is one of the most
widely followed diary research designs. As a means to provide a rich description of the
research or as a way to provide triangulation, this qualitative method is often used in
conjunction with other research methods. The diary-interview provides an opportunity for
questions to be asked and answered and allows the recorded events to be explored in greater
depth. It may also allow for the participant to clarify experiences that were written or
unwritten and draw on events outside of the diary period for comparison (Harvey, 2011).
Exploring the events recorded can be a liberating experience for participants. It can be used
as a departure point to delve deeper into topics in the diary that were presented as well as
those that were not.
The diary-interview method is unique in that the preparation of the interview is based on the
same material: ‘the participant writes the diary and the researcher reads the diary’ (Sheble
and Wildemuth, 2009. pg. 5). For all participants in this study, the post-diary interview was
conducted within a week of the diary completion. This provided the researcher with time to
analyse individual diaries and organise an interview guide based on that specific diary. To
ensure a relaxed and familiar environment, these interviews were conducted in the same
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
location as the previous interview. The semi-structured format was again utilised in this
method to ensure the participant was familiar with the conversational style and structure.
Appendix H shows some general questions that were asked to all participants during this
Data Analysis
Researchers immerse themselves into interviews, diaries, reading and re-reading as a strategy
to understand the qualitative ‘chaos’ of their data. It is through this immersion that new
perspectives, connection, understandings, and theories emerge (Liamputtong and Ezzy,
2005).Liamputtong and Ezzy (2005) describe qualitative research as ‘calculated chaos’ (pg.
258), two central and potentially conflicting processes. The chaotic nature of qualitative data
analysis has often been criticised for its exploratory and unclear aims. However, the path to
the specific nature of a problem is not always clear. In contrast, qualitative research is also
calculated. There are established methods that dictate procedures and techniques to analyse
qualitative data (Bryman, 2001). These traditional methods include narrative analysis, diary
analysis, and coding. These techniques have been established to produce effective means for
the analysis of the results.
Narrative Analysis
The research challenge presented here is to determine what elements of the data are important
and how to record and interpret these elements. There is no single defined narrative method,
but rather an array of ways in which the researcher can connect with the narrative properties
of their data (Elliot, 2005). Gubrium and Holstein (1994 cited in Wiles et al., 2013) state that
narratives make the usually unforseen personal experiences visible and embodies their social
contexts. By examining what people have to say about their personal experiences, narrative
analysis provides insights into the spatial and social processes and events of an individual
(Wiles et al., 2005). Researchers have emphasised the ambiguity of narratives, highlighting
how narratives are multi-dimensional and by examining these dimensions a richer
understanding of the events and experiences are presented.
Narrative analysis was turned to as a way to connect with everyday, situated experiences of
individuals and families within the outdoor area of their home. Narratives provide valuable
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
insight into the experiences and meanings of geographic-related and social-related issues.
Narrative analysis allows us to move away from the ambiguities of talk where contextual
analysis and interpretation can occur. In the context of valuing water and water practices,
narratives have provided a rich textured approach to the analysis of interviews and water
diaries while enabling the researcher to become more attentive to the study participants.
Diary analysis
The techniques of acquiring diary data compared to the more conventional and systematic
types of data collection have been subject to discussion (Bolger et al., 2002). The widespread
use of diary methods has forced diary analysis to expand its theories and approaches to help
researchers capture the experiences of everyday life that fill and occupy our conscious
attention (Belcher, 1932; Bolger et al., 2002). The diary analysis aims to answer questions
involving a person’s experiences, how other people differ in these experiences, processes
underlining change, and the differences in these processes. For the sample size of this
project’s water diary, simplification was the approach taken and ‘open coding’ used. Coding
for the water-diary was similar to the interview data where common themes were manually
identified and categorised accordingly.
Once the data has been collected and transcribed it is important that the qualitative material is
coded. Coding is an integral process to the researcher as it aids in reducing, organising,
analysing and theory-building of the data. It facilitates an organisational structure of
familiarity by constructing and maintaining the data along lines of commonality and relation
(Cope cited in Hay, 2005). There are a number of options when it comes to coding, both
manual and by utilising software, with the majority of techniques best suited to large sample
sizes. For the purpose of this research ‘open coding’, in conjunction with the theoretical
principles of other coding systems, was used. While a number of the analysis techniques are
similar, it is felt that with the sample size and the themes that are predicted to be present,
‘open coding’ captures the innate complexities of the text and clarifies salient thematic
concepts (Crang, 2005). Open coding disciplines the researcher to be thorough and precise as
the material is sorted word by word, line by line. As ideas and themes emerge they are noted
alongside the text with no further thought or finalisation at that time. This process ensures the
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
researcher gets as close to the material as possible and the concepts and categories can then
be organised (Grbich, 2007).
The coding process is a monotonous task and although the manual practise is undertaken after
the data collection, coding is a constant and unconscious process throughout our everyday
lives. Cope (cited in Hay, 2005. pg. 232) reminds us that ‘being in the world requires us to
categorise, sort, prioritise, and interpret social data in all of our interactions’. The process of
coding qualitative data is merely a formulisation of the processes in our lives in order to
extract subtle trends and create structures as a way to elucidate the interpretations to others
(Cope cited in Hay, 2005).
Limitations and Conclusion
Throughout the data gathering process a number of limitations arose. Timing was the most
significant limiting factor for the interviews, water diaries and the recruitment process. For
some participants, the water diary period fell during a time of rainfall and was therefore a
factor that needed to be taken into consideration during analysis and possibly discussed
during the diary-interview. The interviews were conducted during a time of limited rainfall
and participants often reflected on their most recent practices. The recruitment process
involving AUSSCER’s household survey (2009) tended to attract an older demographic.
Availability of this group was mainly due to retirement and no longer having children within
the household. This was again another factor that needed to be considered during the
qualitative analysis.
Despite these limitations, the research methods were effective in answering the research
questions. Through the use of semi-structured interviews, water diaries and dairy-interviews I
was allowed into the backyards of Illawarra residents and received first-hand information on
water values and practices. What follows is an interpretation and discussion of the empirical
data over two chapters. Chapter Four explores how water values are expressed through
everyday practices of Illawarra residents; and Chapter Five focuses on how everyday values
and practices are related to water availability.
Jonathon Cook | Methodology
Chapter Four
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
Water Values and Practices
This is the first of two discussion chapters, which both seek to address the over-arching aim
of this thesis: to investigate, in the context of water availability, how water is valued in
outdoor area of the home. As previously discussed, water practices provide important
intersections with previous research. Drawing from a human geographic and social science
approach, this chapter moves beyond the generic categories of value that presumes a degree
of homogeneity. This research has sought to explore how water values are interconnected
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
(Gibbs, 2006) and move away from the hegemonic approach. By evaluating particular water
practices, this chapter seeks to determine how these water practices have changed over time
and whether these practices are consistent with water values.
There is no single value for water. Rather, it attracts a collection of meanings dominated by
historical and geographical circumstances. In this chapter a broad view of values and
practices is first addressed. This consists of how water is constructed, the networks of supply,
and a brief discussion of water drainage and storage system. This is followed by a discussion
on the history of water use and value. This section seeks to explore the importance of past
experiences and cultural meanings in becoming embedded in everyday water practices and
how they operate in the outdoor area of the home. The final section addresses the water
saving techniques used by Illawarra residents. Although spoken about within the previous
two sections, a more nuanced understanding of these techniques is required. Drawing from
the previous work on water practices, the final section conceptualises different water sources
and adaptive practices. Three techniques that play a vital role in transforming the habits and
practices are discussed: rainwater tanks, recycled water and native plants.
Water Practices and outside Water Networks
Water is positioned within a culturally specific set of consumption practices connected to
spaces of the outdoor area of the home, the garden and suburban living. Recent fluctuations
in water availability have propelled water to the forefront of conscious decision making
within households. It has introduced new motifs of change in attitudes of profligacy and
practice to attune our water habits to the realities of living on one of the driest continents on
Earth (Head and Muir, 2007). Everyday water consumption has become entangled within
these availabilities and the habitual enjoyment of practices and experiences that water
provides (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006). Cultural geographies of water value have sought to
understand the diverse and complex meanings of water and its multifaceted role in
knowledge and practice. In the outdoor area of the home, water is simultaneously valued as a
site of recreation and leisure, the display of identity, a means to reinscribe cultural practice
and environmental knowledge (Gibbs, 2010). Setting water availability and environmental
aspects associated with water aside for a moment, this part of the analysis delves into
people’s actual water practices to underscore the importance of every day, unspectacular and
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
discrete dimensions of daily water use that have become ‘routine, habitual and, therefore,
inconspicuous practices of consumption’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006. pg. 47).
The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the discussion of water discourse and
practice (Sofoulis, 2005, 2011; Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Gibbs, 2006, 2009, 2010; Head and
Muir, 2006, 2007). As a result of drought and the imposition of water restrictions,
participants’ response to the water shortages indicated a comprehensive understanding of the
social and ecological systems that are at play. The qualitative analysis revealed a unique
language towards water practices in the outdoor area of the home: the behaviours of birds,
plants, and soil; climatic patterns; time management of habits and routines; the networks of
water delivery; and ideas of ingenuity and technology. These practices are tied closely as a
dimension of everyday life, past experiences, and the knowledge and understanding of the
processes of different scales of water management.
Participants constructed water as a ‘precious’ and ‘finite’ resource that has been continually
mismanaged by state and federal governments. When canvassed on their attitude towards
water in the Illawarra, the participant group took several avenues as to who is responsible for
water conservation. Some made observations on ‘big water’ (Sofoulis, 2005) issues such as
infrastructure, dams and water recycling, while issues such as drought, water restrictions and
water quality were also discussed. While these discussion demonstrated concerns for water,
they also produced a disconnection between the problems associated with water and the
participants household water use. A sense of personal responsibility was raised by other
participants, who explicitly linked their practices in the outdoor area of the home with the
major water issues. These findings are similar to Head and Muir (2007) that found the
attitudes of participants to the environment were split between those who spoke of ‘big’ water
issues that rested on government responsibility and those who linked current issues to
household consumption and practice. Lydia – a high school teacher from Austinmer - spoke
of latter. She believes due to the ‘narrow margin of years’ in which the drought hit,
households showed a willingness to cooperate because ‘people are willing to change and be
responsible in the way that they live’:
“I think it’s something that we constantly need to be aware of but also modify how
practices about being responsible and so forth” (Lydia - Austinmer)
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“I think people respond very quickly and I do think people respond quite positively to
being responsible and if the continent becomes a lot drier then I’m sure people will
respond to that because they have indicated that many times over. I think we just
change the best you can change” (Lydia - Austinmer)
The construction of water drainage and storage systems is a refinement of ‘big water’, spoken
by Head and Muir (2007), to suit household practices and is an activity that provided some
participants with a sense of responsibility. The resourcefulness and practicality of
constructing a water system is directed towards a valuable purpose, as a mode of engineering
various pipes to direct rainwater into different areas of the garden. A prime example of this
was Peter, a retired equipment developer and maintenance engineer from Towradgi and a
self-confessed garden enthusiast. Peter’s background as a maintenance engineer and his
involvement with volunteer environmental development projects provided him with the
expertise to build his own in-ground water tank and gravity fed watering system (as seen in
the chapter picture as Peter stands beneath his home-made gravity fed system). Figure 4.1
shows Peter’s backyard and the shed where he built a 20,000 litre underground rainwater
tank, gravity fed watering system and the solar panel on the roof that provides the energy to
transport the water from the rainwater tank to the gravity fed system. Peter spoke with intense
passion about his home projects and the prospects for future innovation and acknowledged
‘I’ve never been busier than since I retired. Building this, building that’:
“My previous life experience I worked at the steel works as an engineer. Water was a
problem in that we had to control the flow of water leaving the plant for
environmental reasons like pollution and that was probably one of my main tasks was
improving the environmental type things in the plant” (Frank– Oak Flats)
“This [garden] will all be drip irrigated one day, the pipes are in there. At the
moment this comes off a water tank and I’ve got a pump and under the shed is a
15,000 litre roof water tank. All the equipment is there, I’ve just got to finish it...and
you’ll see a solar panel on the roof there, that’s going to drive a pump that will drive
water from the in-ground tank to the head tank and that will drip feed all through my
gardens” (Peter - Towradgi)
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
Figure 4.1: Peter’s backyard in Towradgi.
Whether it is the construction of drainage or storage systems, installation of rainwater tanks
or introducing native plants the theme of ‘desire’ (Head and Muir, 2007. pg. 10) was often
introduced. This resembled what many researchers have discovered: a changing culture of
water in Australian backyards (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Head and Muir, 2007; Gardiner,
2008; Sofoulis and Williams, 2008). Desire was a recurring and strong theme in the
qualitative analysis, but less cohesive in its articulation, which encapsulated the wants, needs
and dreams surrounding water. When desire was spoken of by the participants, it involved
aspirations of installing a water tank and other water saving devices, a desire for water
features or the introduction of water saving plants. Other emotive experiences in the outdoor
area of the home were feelings of ‘happiness’ and ‘pleasure’ generally associated with
watering the garden and the tranquil effects as you connect with the environment through the
watering practices. Ann – a social worker and teacher who lives in the foothills of Austinmer
- spoke about her interest in installing a water tank after most of the preparation had already
been completed, but as the drought eased and water restrictions were lowered some years
ago, the idea of a water tank was placed on the backburner. Bruce – a retired auctioneer from
Oak Flats – expressed similar interest in his water diary:
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
“Again funnily enough we have things set up, it was difficult to put one on the block
we’re on and a few years ago when there was more drought we got ready to put one
in and got outdoor power for a pump and then it just didn’t happen for a range of
reasons so no we don’t have one...it’s all ready to go but we just haven’t done it
because it started to rain I think a few years ago. So when it became less of an issue
drought wise when I think the restrictions on water came off” (Ann - Austinmer)
“Good rain, showery type. Makes me think about getting a rainwater tank when I see
water running down the gutter” (Bruce – Oak Flats)
In contrasting circumstances, Frank – a retired fisherman from Oak Flats - who currently has
a storage capacity for 20,000 litres of rainwater still desires more capacity:
“I wish I had more storage. They have cut my water bill down by over 30% and that’s
the whole ideal because water, electricity and gas, well mainly electricity and gas are
being privatised and water will be next. I don’t fancy paying some shareholders
profits when I can get water from the sky for nothing. I can’t generate gas for nothing
or produce electricity for nothing but I can catch water for nothing” (Frank – Oak
From Kaika’s (2005) reading of the household environment, the networks that supply water
are invisible or ignored by the domestic consumer until a problem arises. However, the
resourcefulness and ingenuity of participants such as Frank and Peter, and the desires raised
by Ann highlight that in outdoor areas people expressed a detailed knowledge of these
networks and their workings in and around their home. A crucial reason why people contain
explicit knowledge of the networks is that ‘they are active agents within them’ (Head and
Muir, 2007. pg. 13). Participants described practices that were both creative and banal to
conserve and reuse water in both the water diaries and interviews. Figure 4.2 are two
examples of these practices. The image on the left is of John’s reuse of washing machine
water, and the right is of Peter’s self-designed automatic drip irrigation to his overhanging
plants. These practices were informal, irregular and unstructured in nature and each
participant contained their own unique technique of water gathering.
“I reuse water from the washing machine. I’ve got a pipe that connects from the
machine to the rest of the yard, and I pump it out...I pump it into a wheelie bin and I
cipher it with a hose and let it slowly go into the gardens” (John – Oak Flats)
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“We use to have a big wine drum out the back and the rain would fill that with water
and I would get the bucket and fill it and water the plants” (Merium - Shellharbour)
“We have some pots around the place that gather a bit of water occasionally but
mostly as soon as it starts to rain a lot of the pot plants that are hanging around the
barbeque area and any indoor pots I tend to put outside in the rain so that means they
are watered more naturally by the rainfall rather than to having to water them
separately” (Lydia - Austinmer)
Figure 4.2: (Left) John’s use of washing
machine water
Figure 4.3: (Right) Peter’s automatic drip
For John – a retired gardening enthusiast and local to the Oak Flats area for his entire life – a
daily ritual is using the water from the washing machine on his and his wife’s garden beds.
For Merium – a Shellharbour resident for almost sixty years – and Lydia, they speak of the
opportunity to gather water during times of rainfall. Furthermore, Lydia spoke of the benefit
of her proximity to the beach within her water diary and the use of seaweed as mulch in her
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
“The rainwater was mixed with seaweed that I had collected from the beach. The
seaweed leaches minerals etc. into the water and is a great conditioner for the soil
and plants” (Lydia – Austinmer)
These practices are highly ephemeral and diverse in nature, but like Allon and Sofoulis
(2006) these practices are seen to play a significant role in transforming people’s water habits
and practices. Recognising there is a need to change the way water is used and valued was the
most commonly shared perspective towards environmental commitment across all
participants. Consistent with Kurz et al., (2005) findings in Perth where water is constructed
as a finite and precious resource that must be conserved, participants continue to place a high
value on water, which is reflected by their water practices and the implementation of water
saving techniques. The practices that have been described create new values and meanings
that are influenced by broader social processes (Gibbs, 2010) and exist as a site of recreation,
pleasure and desire, and resourcefulness and creativity.
Water Values and Past Lived Experience
The exclusion from and access to water is manifested in particular socio-ecological
interactions that produce different ways of valuing water. These interactions include specific
historical and geographical conditions. As Ioris (2011. pg. 874) noted, values are ultimately
the lasting outcomes of past experiences that precipitate in the ‘discourse, morality, and
imagination of human societies’. An understanding of the cultural domain and the complex
experiences with water is crucial for developing effective management strategies and
adopting sustainable urban lifestyles. This section seeks to explore the importance of cultural
meanings and past experiences, both of which are embedded in everyday practices and
function as interactions in the outdoor area of the home.
Consciousness of water saving practices is not a recent occurrence in people’s lives. The
connection to rural or agricultural childhood on the land and normality of water scarcity was
a common element within the qualitative data. By relating to specific experiences in their
lives, several participants often reminisced on the harshness of the Australian environment
and its impact on everyday water practices. Kerry – a mother of two and now retired living on
the edge of Lake Illawarra in Mount Warrigal - spoke vividly about her experience as a child
growing up with the rainwater tank as her family’s only source of water. That availability of
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
water reinforced a perspective of valuing water that has remained with her throughout her life
and one she has passed down to her daughters.
“We were born in the times when there was only tank water, no town water at all, so
when you had a tank on you had to wait for the rain and so you learnt to be very
conservative, your washing up water went out to the plants and all that sort of stuff.
So that’s how I grew up and I tried to teach Nicole and Jenny [Kerry’s daughters]not
to waste the water but the grandkids just don’t understand because they have never
come up or grown up with it, it’s always been available. I suppose that’s why we
don’t waste it...water was precious and ever drop counted especially when there were
droughts and if your tank was low you couldn’t waste water. You went down to the
sea to have a wash instead of having a basin wash” (Kerry Mount Warrigal)
“You would see the rain coming across the water and it would stop before it got to
you and mum would be there ready to run with the dishes. We would have all the
dishes out to catch the water because we were running low” (Kerry – Mount
In contrast to the circumstances in which Kerry was raised, Larry – a train driver from
Shellharbour and father of three - recalled the accessibility and liberal attitude to water use
when he was growing up. Compared to Kerry’s childhood of the 1940s and 50s, Larry grew
up during the 1970s when water was abundant and its availability was never an issue. The
attitude and perception of water was dramatically different. ‘No one gave a bugger about how
much they used back then’ (Larry - Shellharbour) was the perception voiced by a number of
participants while reflecting on water use during the 1960s and 1970s, particularly from those
who lived in coastal towns and communities. Larry often compared the situation he grew up
in with his own three children; expressing a similar lack of care and appreciation:
“When you were a kid you didn’t even think about that, you just went to the tap and
you didn’t think about where it came from, it was just there, ‘someone pays for this,
what’s this all about?’ It’s a different attitude [now] and it’s good that they’re trying
to change that attitude about water and how vital it is...I think everyone looked at it
as a free commodity...I was born in the 60s and water back then was basically a toy.
We never had computer games so we would have a lot more water fights and hose
fights and the rest of it but now people are a bit more aware of the lack of water
during those lean times” (Larry - Shellharbour)
Past experience with water scarcity often correlated with water saving practices, such as the
introduction of rainwater tanks. The exposure to different water availability provides people
with the ‘imaginative capacity’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006. pg. 51) to adopt a different
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
approach to the way water is used in the outdoor area of the home. Among participants who
have exhibited water saving behaviours, a portion was raised during times of drought and
water scarcity when availability to town water mains was non-existent. A personal history of
dependence on water availability, such as Kerry, revealed a direct correlation with water
conscious practices and attitudes and a greater involvement with the outdoor household water
networks. Head and Muir (2007) have discussed this involvement with reference to backyard
gardens, arguing that when residents make connections with outdoor water networks,
networks become partially visible and may influence the conceptualisation of outdoor water
practice. For those raised during severe drought and dependent on alternative water supplies,
the involvement with these outdoor water networks were essential in fulfilling everyday
household needs. This was the case for Frank. With a strong recollection and experience of
water availability growing up and as a professional fisherman throughout most of his life,
Frank’s intricate involvement with his household water networks is a reflection of past
experiences. Over the past 15 years Frank has introduced 20,000 litres of rainwater tank
capacity [Figure 4.3] for indoor and outdoor use and redesigned his front and backyard to suit
the dry and harsh conditions previously experienced in the Oak Flats area. The practices
Frank adopted highlights water as a scarce and reusable resource suitable for the continual
fulfilment of outdoor water practices.
“When I grew up, I grew up on tank water for about 15 years of my early life and I
know what it’s like to be short of water for every day to day life and the irony is that
we only lived 2km out of town and when I came to school here [in Oak Flats] and
eventually work here I turned on a tap and water was endless but because I lived 2km
out of town and there was no town water there my parents had to buy water just to
exist. When my mother put her brand new automatic washing machine on and it used
170 gallons of water my old man would freak so we were aware that water is
valuable, a necessity, you just can’t live without it...the younger generations who
didn’t experience tank water, their attitude to the use of water is different. They’re a
lot more careless, a lot more blasé about water. When you live on tanks it’s not easy
come easy go. You cross your fingers for when it does come it lasts until the next
lot...water has always been crucial, been important for life...To me water has always
had a constant value to me personally because it’s a necessity of life it has a constant
value and that’s a high value” (Frank – Oak Flats)
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
Figure 4.4:These three tanks owned by Frank have a capacity of 9,000 litres
Gardiner’s (2008) research into the use of tank water and its perceived value argues that for
many, the value of tank water will fall if main water supply is freely available. For Frank and
others who were raised and have lived a significant period of their life on alternative water
supplies, the luxury and cultural norm of readily available water was and continues to be
highly valued and vigilantly managed in the outdoor area of the household. For this group,
the water saving practices, which formed as a result of those past experiences, have been
ingrained in their daily water routines despite their present connection to water mains. This
suggests that the connections between present and past experiences – mediated by family
networks, childhood memories, and travel experiences – are important resources in
understanding why water is valued in different ways. Margret G – a retired primary school
teacher now residing in Shellharbour - was a prime example of this connection. Having
grown up in England, Margaret moved to Australia in 1969 and bought a small farm near
Dapto. “When we first bought the property it was non-drought of course, we had a stream
running through and a big dam so you could use that if you were going to grow things”. As
the drought worsened, Margaret and her family had to adapt to the conditions and developed
water practices and attitudes that remain to this date.
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
“Where I came from we lived in the middle of a town and we had town water, it was
always on tap, things we didn’t have when we first came here. You didn’t think about
water as such, you had rainfall all the time where I lived in England so it was never
short” (Margaret G - Shellharbour)
“It was a big learning curve in Dubbo and it did rub off when we came home because
then we had like nine years of drought. It sort of rubbed off so you became more
careful with water” (Margaret G - Shellharbour)
Similarly, Margaret T – also a retired school teacher - grew up during the 1930s and 40s in
rural NSW. These circumstances have been ingrained in her everyday water practices.
Having moved to Balgownie, Margaret devotes a lot of time to her roses and flowers that
surround her villa. She reminisces about the times of water scarcity while growing up as a
child and the impact that has had on her until this day:
“I’ve always been conscious of water. I can remember years and years ago when
there were just tanks and you had to go get all your water from a tank and the little
insects that came out of the tap when they used to get low...I can remember water
shortages when we were only allowed to put water in the bath but I can’t remember
what that was for though...I use to go on holidays on a farm. It stems from the same
thing. I cannot throw out food or anything like that it’s been instilled in me to not
waste food or water I dare say” (Margaret T - Balgownie)
Participants often reminisced about a time when water was in abundance and could be
purchased for near to no cost. The price of water imposed no limitations, and guilt-free
pleasures could be had by the family with no consideration to conservation. When the most
recent drought hit and water restrictions were introduced, people were forced to change their
water practices. By the latter half of the 20th century, urban water was both abundant and
cheap in Australia. Urban consumers took for granted the availability of water and perceived
its cleanliness and low cost as a right (Sibly, 2006). Frank, Larry and Peter all spoke of the
1960s and 70s as a time when water was viewed as an abundant resource with an unlimited
supply, at little or no cost:
“There was plenty of water per head of population and the prices were ridiculously
cheap. Water was never an issue 50 years ago” (Frank – Oak Flats)
“I think everyone looked at it as a free commodity. We get charged a fair bit more for
it now but back then there might still have been water rates but they were nothing
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
substantial as there are today. No one gave a bugger about how much they used back
then” (Larry - Shellharbour)
“30 years ago we didn’t worry about water, it wasn’t a problem. In the old days you
could use as much water as you liked, it wasn’t a problem. I don’t think we paid for it.
They had meters but I don’t think they came around and read them” (Peter Towradgi)
Worldwide, water pricing is the predominant economic incentive instrument to not only
charge for domestic water but also discourage wasteful practices (Hung and Chie, 2013). An
increase in water price has been seen as an effective method in reducing household
consumption and is believed to lead to household water efficiencies (Willis et al., 2013;
Randolph and Troy, 2008). However, there is debate about the implementation and value of
regulation approaches to water conservation (Willis et al., 2013).
Water Saving Practices
When exploring outdoor water practices and attitudes, participants described water as an
undervalued yet vital resource that has been historically mismanaged and abused. Illawarra
residents are active agents in the management of water and acknowledge that these past
processes cannot continue. The conceptualisation of different water sources and concepts of
creating change surfaced as key themes to outdoor water conservation practices. Strategies
for water saving were both banal and creative. The irregular, unstructured and informal
nature of these techniques between participants made these practices difficult to formally
document (Head and Muir, 2007). However, it is these diverse techniques that play a crucial
role in transforming habits and practices within the domain of the outdoor household setting
(Allon and Sofoulis, 2006). In this section, water saving techniques are discussed with
particular attention to: the installation of rainwater tanks; practices of recycling water,
particularly washing machine water; and native plants in gardens
Rainwater Tanks
The past fifteen years has seen an unprecedented rate of domestic rainwater tank installations
across many Australian cities in response to drought, subsequent water restrictions and
development regulations and subsidies (Gardiner, 2008). Tanks have been depicted as a
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
means to challenge ‘big water’ (Sofoulis, 2005) systems and elevate the interactions with
water to a ‘practical consciousness that can stimulate lasting changes in the way that water is
consumed’ (Gardiner, 2008. pg. 100). Through exploring the reasoning behind the
installation of rainwater tanks in households, and how it has influenced pre-existing attitudes
and practices, two broad groups of participants are distinguished based on current outdoor
practices: water intensive rainwater tank owners , and environmentally motivated rainwater
tank owners. Rainwater tank owners are not a homogenous group but are distinct from one
another through diverse attitudes and behaviours. It is these groups of behaviours and
attitudes that are important here [Figure 4.4 show one of two water tanks on Cary’s property.
This particular water tank was purchased eight years ago, as a result of the drought and to
continue water practices during times of water restrictions].
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
Figure 4.5: One of two rainwater tanks on Cary’s property
One group of participants who own rainwater tanks, tend to demonstrate a culture of
intensive water use. The results highlight a frequent engagement with leisure based water use
that required large amounts of water. Gardening, lawn maintenance, refilling of the pool, and
outdoor cleaning were seen as everyday water practices and almost essential to their
households’ culture. The ownership of a rainwater tank within the Illawarra area allows the
continuation of an outdoor water culture that may otherwise be constrained during periods of
drought and water restrictions. These results concur with Moy (2012) whose research on the
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
water savings achieved by rainwater tanks in the Illawarra found a continual engagement
with high water use activities by rainwater tank owners. In this research project, the
autonomous control over outdoor water use became a recurring theme. For participants like
Peter, rainwater tank ownership allowed an unrestricted use of water behaviours deemed
acceptable prior to the introduction of water restrictions. Peter has a home within one
hundred metres of coastline. Peter’s large garden and pool sits on a sand dune that requires
above average water consumption. Since retiring Peter has built a large underground
rainwater tank and sophisticated gravity fed system that allows him to maintain his water use
practices within the context of the conditions he experiences on his property.
“I built the water tank because its concrete, its underground down there so once I got
into that thought I really cut loose with watering the garden” (Peter - Towradgi)
More than just a volume of water, rainwater tanks continually consolidate a distinction
between water mains and water obtained from the tank. The independence from the mains
supply generated by rainwater tanks is a vital element of their appeal. Gardiner (2008)
similarly found that pool owners, gardening enthusiasts and the environmentally motivated
were attracted to rainwater tanks because of their distinction to the water mains. The value of
the water harnessed by rainwater tanks was understood in terms of its independence to
centralised water management decisions. This was the predominant reasoning for Lydia and
her family who introduced a second tank during the water restrictions in early 2000. It
allowed a freedom of water usage unattainable while on town water mains alone.
“When we got the water tanks it freed us up in the way that we weren’t worried about
using water to water the garden otherwise you feel a bit guilty using the town water.
If you have your own tank that means you can water as you need to water until they
empty of course which usually takes a good watering to empty the tanks” (Lydia Austinmer)
In contrast to water intensive rainwater tank owners, environmentally motivated rainwater
tank owners emerged as a behavioural group that reinforced an ethical and moral
consciousness towards water conservation. Through a variety of behaviours, including water
recycling, using less water and indoor connections, environmentally conscious solutions were
a part of a life view emphasising ‘controlled personal consumption’ (Gardiner, 2008. pg.
110). Moy (2012) also distinguished a group of tank owners that were dedicated to an ethics
of water-saving and were environmentally conscious. Moy (2012) found that tank owners
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
were governed by a sense of duty to the community and the environment. Those practices
were evident in the cases of Katherine and Jose. Katherine – who resides on the cliffs edge
of Austinmer – and Jose – a Mangerton father of one who moved to Australia in 1986 from
Brazil and born in Portugal – expressed a dedication to lowering their consumption and curb
any past activity deemed wasteful:
“We try to be very green and there were water restrictions and because I’m a
gardener we feel that we should use tank water when we can” (Katherine- Austinmer)
“The water tank has been in for 3 years and there were some water restrictions on
but it was not for the water restrictions it was because we wanted to save and
conserve water” (Jose - Mangerton)
Rainwater tanks owners do not fall into a specific category based on ownership. They exist
within a set of defined water practices that exhibit a consciousness towards water saving or
the maintenance of the outdoor area. That is not to say the water intensive group are not
environmentally conscious, but the reasoning for their purchase of a rainwater tank was
firstly to maintain their everyday water practices during times of different water availability.
Consistent with the findings of Moy (2012), a contradiction between the attitudes and
practices was frequently evident among the participants. Intentions to save water were often
contradicted by participants partaking in regular high-volume water activities. As mentioned
above, rainwater tank owners do not fall into neatly defined groups. The displays of
contradictory practices highlight the complexities of outdoor water consumption.
Recycled Water
The most recent drought led to the imposition of stern restrictions to outdoor household use
(National Water Commission, 2012). While the conditions and restrictions of the drought
have abated, the potential for future dry conditions and water restrictions due to climate
change - coupled with new pricing policies, sustainable housing designs and a trend towards
integrated water management - are likely to create a change in the current perception and use
of grey water by households. The opposition towards water recycling has tended to focus on
the ‘yuck’ factor (Nancarrow et al., 2009; Leviston et al., 2006; Russell and Hampton, 2006):
a response by individuals to the reuse of water derived from unsanitary practices in the home.
It should be cautioned to assume that this view is a barrier to water reuse development and
public acceptance. The following quotes by Chris - a father of two and resident of Corrimal –
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
James – a landscape constructionist from Austinmer - and Merium highlight the
misconception of the ‘yuck’ factor. It appears within certain limits people are willing to
tolerate water that is construed as ‘yuck’ or ‘dirty’ in nature:
“I really think showers and washing the clothes are the two biggest users of water.
The water just goes down the drain so we need to recycle the water, even if you
employ a grey tank so you can reuse the water. Not the sewerage but the water you
use when you have a shower to be reused for the toilets” (Chris - Corrimal)
“We’re going to put in a reticulated water service where we can actually get bodies
of water moving and aerate the gardens and whatever comes out of the toilets, like a
biosystem that will treat the water like a little mini treatment plant in our home so
that’s all from recycled water so we won’t rely on water mains as much as possible”
(James- Austinmer)
“When we’re in a drought I reused the bath water for the pot plants and I collect the
rainwater on the veranda in buckets and that goes around my pots on the veranda. I
went to Queensland and a friend put a hose in her washing machine because they
lived on a farm and they used all that water and I thought that was a good idea...but I
don’t do that now, but I have done it. If we had a drought and we had water
restrictions again I would do it” (Merium - Shellharbour)
The interaction with washing machine water, particularly during times of water scarcity, was
a continual theme in the qualitative analysis. Washing machine water provides an area of
water recycling where a formulised framework and structure may enhance techniques and
provide greater public awareness and acceptance for water recycling. The reluctance
participants to adopt this technique is based on the perception the water may be toxic to
plants, or the ‘yuck’ factor as previously mentioned. Through adequate education and
appropriate guidelines washing machine water reuse would gain greater acceptance and
penetrate into outdoor water behaviours. John spoke extensively and enthusiastically about
his history with using the washing machine water for his gardens and the progress and
technical advancements he has made to make recycled water available to his front and
backyard. For ten years John has been using the washing machine water on his garden. John
has developed an articulated watering system that continues to this day. ‘…once you learn to
do certain things, you keep doing it’. This practice has become a habit, an ‘everyday’ routine
for John since the introduction of the water restrictions twelve years ago. This is well
illustrated in Figure 4.5 as John demonstrates his reuse of washing machine water. When
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
John connects the pipe shown in the photo to a connection in the washing machine, water is
gravity fed down to his front yard.
“I do reuse water from the washing machine. I’ve got a pipe that connects from the
machine to the rest of the yard, and I pump it out. It’s a fair amount really because
sometimes I pump it into a wheelie bin and I cipher it with a hose and let it slowly go
into the gardens. So that means all the water from the washing goes onto the grass, or
the lawns or the gardens. I do it all the time, everyday” (John – Oak Flats)
“It just seemed like such a waste letting it go down the drain when you can use it. It’s
not saving much, it doesn’t decrease the bills so I don’t know why but the water is
still being used. But then again I suppose if I put that water down the drain and then
went out and hosed the garden with the hose it would be a lot more” (John – Oak
Figure 4.6: John showing how it is down with reusing his washing machine water.
The perceptions and acceptance of water reuse by the public are recognised by water
authorities and researchers as the crucial ingredients for the success for any reuse project (Po
et al., 2003). Participants in the qualitative analysis of this research voiced a clear willingness
to go against social norms and, if they haven’t already, adopt recycling measures, particularly
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
for use in their gardens. Their enthusiasm contradicts common ideas about water recycling in
Australian households and communities (Russell and Hampton, 2006; Nancarrow et al.,
2009) and exceeds political leaders’ and water authorities’ willingness to act. Most
encouragingly, it positioned the household as a subject of creativity and eagerness in
providing a cultural shift in water towards water reuse and recycling. Ann expresses her
strong support for change in the way we think about water recycling within the networks
between the inside area of the home and the outside:
“A tank is one option but it’s somehow about our plumbing and how things are.
Recycling water should be incorporated into the housing design and should be set up
so washing water can be brought out to the garden and you probably wouldn’t even
need a tank. It should be standard sort of practices and I don’t know why it isn’t”
(Ann - Austinmer)
Ann questions why the use of recycled water is not common in Australian homes and one
crucial reason is education. Through education about water, particularly alternative water
sources such as recycled water, the negative connotations associated with those water forms
could be replaced by strong public acceptance. In the past, larger scale water developments,
such as desalination plants and recycling programs, have triggered negative reactions and
community resistance (Tapsuwan et al., 2007). It is one thing to understand the attitudes and
practices of individuals but it is quite another to change their ideas and perceptions. However,
these ideas are not fixed or static. They are susceptible to change and education aims to
address the issues of water scarcity and potentially influence public perception regarding
issues such as water recycling.
Native Plants
The introduction of native plants into the garden environment is a technique used by most
participants with a suitable sized outdoor area. Native plants are seen as a very sustainable
choice when it comes to water conservation because of their drought tolerance and pest and
disease resistance. There is also a cultural aesthetic to native plants. In urban areas they
reflect a sense of place and provide an opportunity to educate on local bioregions. They also
have the benefit of supporting other plant and animal life and urban remnants (Koester,
2013). However, for participants native plants provided a sense of freedom and assurance
regarding water frequency once the native plants were established. As a landscapist, James
provided an insight into the trends and direction of his industry stating a new paradigm has
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
emerged towards water conscious garden design with the introduction of drought resistant
plants and installation of rainwater tanks:
“The industry themselves are leaning towards drought resistant plants and a lot of
people are asking for low maintenance and drought resistant plants so they don’t
have to worry about it but they are only drought resistant or drought tolerant when
they are established and growing in their own environment and until then, I hate to
say it, they are going to waste a lot of water. You have to waste before you can get the
benefits. Once you establish it and get that there then the savings will be down the
track” (James- Austinmer)
James discussed how people have begun to introduce local natives into their gardens as a
means to counteract the droughts and subsequent water restrictions. At a time when water
was in abundance and water conservation was unheard of, ‘fancy plants’ or flowering plants
that require considerable water were the norm. However, as James pointed out, the water
restrictions hit hard and forced many to rethink their outdoor water practices:
“Planting and what we do in the backyards whether it’s planting or how we use
water, especially in restrictions, it’s very important that we adopt different techniques
or different ways of using water” (James- Austinmer)
By evaluating the qualitative material, water values have been articulated through lived
experiences across time and location. As the idea of valuing water outside monetary values
becomes accepted and applied within a range of resource management arenas, resource
managers are acknowledging that different human perspectives are influenced by past
experiences. The values that people place on water emerge not only from how they use water
but also their diverse backgrounds, histories and livelihoods (Gibbs, 2010). The participants
in study expressed a diverse background which included some who have lived in the
Illawarra all of their lives, others have moved to the Illawarra for work or family from rural
NSW and interstate, and overseas. The values of water emerge from diverse lived
experiences and past experiences. These are embedded in water practices and attitudes and
expressed in their own individual household culture.
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
The bucket in the shower, the hose in the washing machine; tolerance and perspectives
towards ‘dirty’ water in households is changing and the habits and practices developed during
periods of water restrictions remain part of daily routines. This engagement with water is
where part of its value is understood as it cycles within and between nature and the
household. The relationship between the outdoor and indoor area of the home acts as a
network for water values to be played out through practices of capture, storage and
distribution, and allow for ‘everyday, habitual nature of human engagements with the
nonhuman world’ to occur (Head and Muir, 2007. pg. 25).
Jonathon Cook | Water Values and Practices
Chapter Five
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
Water Availability
Drawing on the knowledge and experience of Illawarra residents, water availability is a key
cross-cutting theme that emerged from concepts of change and the conceptualisation of
different water values. Extending from the work of Gibbs (2006; 2010) on water variability,
this analysis seeks to explore how different water availability – such as drought and rainfall,
and regulatory factors such as water restrictions – influence outdoor water practices and how
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
individuals value water, including practices discussed in the previous chapter. In this
research, water availability encapsulates a range of physical factors that influence the ways in
which the ‘availability’ of water changes. By reconnecting the physical and social-cultural
divide of water availability, this chapter aims to recognise the ‘diverse, changing and
complex’ (Gibbs, 2010. pg. 370) interconnections between water values and the ways in
which nature and culture are embodied. Specifically, this chapter seeks a gauge an
understanding of how everyday water practices and values relate to water availability.
In this chapter, the concept of water availability is first addressed. This consists of
discussions of how changing availability have influenced outdoor practices, characteristics of
water and climatic variability (Gibbs, 2006; 2010). The impact of the ‘2002’ drought (Karoly
et al., 2003. pg. 14) then follows. This consists of a brief overview of past experiences,
attitudes and perceptions. In the next section, water restrictions are discussed to gauge the
relationship between water use and values and the water practices involved in this
relationship. In the context of climate change, it is becoming likely that Australia will
experience changes in the availability of water. In the Illawarra this correlation is not entirely
clear. The chapter concludes with a discussion of climate change and its impacts on Illawarra
residents and outdoor household water.
Stories of Abundance and Scarcity
Water availability contains both spatial and temporal elements. These variables give rise to
patterns of both human and non-human life and within the Illawarra they influence residents’
interaction with water, ‘water places and country, and shape lifestyle and livelihood’ (Gibbs,
2006. pg. 81). An analysis of the qualitative material revealed the extent to which water
availability has impacted the relationship between the outdoor and the household. Frank - a
resident of Oak Flats his entire life - continues a strong connection with water and the
outdoor area of his home since his retirement as a fisherman. He spoke about his experiences
of coming home and using copious amounts of water outside to cook his prawns. As a result
of the unpredictability of water availability and an increase in the price of water, Frank has
installed over 20,000 Litres of water capacity over five rainwater tanks. When asked the
reasons behind installing the water tanks, he spoke candidly about the increasing water price
and stubbornness to use town water, but particularly as a result of the Illawarra climate:
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“This is the land of extremes and it’s either stinking hot and dry or its pissing down
rain and flooding. Whatever might be honky dory this week, this month, this year can
be totally different this time next year so basically it’s forward thinking and
preparation, it’s all you can do” (Frank – Oak Flats)
For Frank the unpredictability of water availability to the Illawarra forced him to look into
alternative water sources such as rainwater tanks. As a result of this unpredictability, Gibbs
(2006) found residents of the Lake Eyre Basin value water for utilitarian and non-utilitarian
purposes. Similarly, Illawarra residents speak with passion and curiosity about the nonutilitarian aspects of water including water places, the different forms of water, lasting and
ephemeral water and their relationship with its availability. When water was spoken of by
people who live in the Illawarra, it invoked ideas of intimacy, compassion and concern that
are often qualities overlooked by the generic meanings of water in dominant discourses. This
understanding of water fosters ‘attachments to specific waters and water places’ (Gibbs,
2010. pg. 367) that are defined by the forms and patterns of water availability. This idea is
expressed by Ron, a former police officer who has lived in the coastal town of Vincentia on
the NSW south coast, and now resides in Port Kembla:
“I used to enjoy standing in my garden of a daytime when it was a sunny day and
hosing, even though I knew you shouldn’t hose when the weather is hot because it has
an adverse effect on plants but I enjoyed the freedom because everything looked so
nice and shiny and cooling” (Ron – Port Kembla)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Figure 5.1: The front yard of Port Kembla resident Ron.
Figure 5.1 shows Ron’s front yard where watering the plants added a therapeutic quality to
water practices where the act of watering and the aesthetically pleasing result of a ‘shiny’
garden provide a connection to water outside utilitarian values. Similarly, Ann – a social
worker and teacher from Austinmer - found standing in the garden with a hose and “a glass of
wine” rather appealing. The specific water and water availability that Ann spoke of tied to
family, stories and memories. She spoke of a memory of her father as a ‘legendary hoser’ and
her mother as a ‘gardener’, and being with them during times of drought and water
restrictions, and the impact they have had on her current outdoor water practices. These past
experiences emphasise how water availability has changed over time and how these changes
impact on outdoor water practices.
“My father was a legendary hoser; he would just be out with the hose...one of the
visions I have of him is with a hose in hand. My mother was a bit more aware of
[water] because she grew up in country Victory where there would have been drought
and restrictions but a colder climate so growing different kind of plants I guess. My
father was not one to be sensitive to the environment so that’s how I’ve grown up, a
bit of a combination there although I’m not quite the hoser my father was but I can
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
see the therapeutic qualities of standing with the hose with a glass of wine” (Ann Austinmer)
Water availability influences practices and behaviours in the outdoor areas of the home.
Residents of the narrow coastal plain of the Illawarra region have, over the past five to ten
years, experienced drought and abundant rainfall. The variability in patterns and flows of
rainfall to the region directly influences gardening, water collection and overall outdoor water
use. Understood in these interactions with water is the knowledge that water is ephemeral to
the Illawarra. As discussed by Stewart – a Keiraville resident, teacher and father of three who
came to Australia from England in 1982 – the impermanence of water by the processes of
drought and water restrictions have shaped a new understanding or influenced an existing
consciousness of water conservation and outdoor watering practices.
“[The drought] has made me change things and look at things environmentally
different and I think that’s the benefit of it that it makes you change the way you do
things” (Stewart - Keiraville)
Analysing how water availability impacts water value engages with the ‘untidy’ (Gibbs,
2010. pg. 368) or ‘messy’ (Castree, 2004. pg. 137) uniqueness of the Illawarra. Water is
frequently described by Illawarra residents as ‘valuable’ and ‘clean’ but as a result of
prolonged drought and subsequent water restrictions the language used to describe water
invokes greater emotion and passion. Rather than being described according to a ‘utility
value’ (Gibbs, 2006. pg. 368), participants have described rainfall according to the varieties
of forms and the temporal nature in which it is received in the Illawarra. When asked ‘What
value do you place on water?’ Stewart realised the complexity of the question:
“It’s a difficult question to ask because do you put a monetary value, do you put it on
environmental value? I would say that at the moment it’s environmental. You have to
try and make everybody aware that water is so precious” (Stewart - Keiraville)
The word ‘precious’ is of significance here. Water is not simply defined by its monetary
value but the response here suggests a greater significance and personal sense of
responsibility. Similarly, Merium – a retired business director from Shellharbour - speaks
about her experience of going without rain for extended period which reiterates the value of
water to her while reflecting on her history with water use and the water restrictions:
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“I used to hose the gutters thirty years ago because water was abundant then, it
didn’t matter and then they started talking about the dams running low. Things have
changed and water is precious. Once we had a day when we couldn’t use our water
for some reason, there was something about the water being infected with
something...Then we had the restrictions and they were telling us that the dams aren’t
filling and there’s no rain and you have to watch your water and I thought you really
do realise that water is so precious” (Merium - Shellharbour)
Merium speaks of a short period of time when clean water became unavailable to her home in
Shellharbour. It was during this period that her daily routines and practices were impeded and
the realisation set in of how ‘precious’ and dependent we are on the continual availability of
water. The patterns created by water availability influences and shape people’s interaction
with water and their lifestyle and livelihood. These patterns are particularly apparent in
outdoor water practices where water management programs such as water restrictions are
In early to mid-2000s many parts of Australia experienced one of the worst droughts on
record, which placed severe stress on the Australian economy, environment, rural industries
and communities (Neal and Moran, 2009). The immense pressure placed on the water
resources led to the perception that this may be part of a broader change in the climate.
Recently, a number of studies have suggested that the prolonged drought was the result of
climate change and the dry conditions experienced in south-eastern Australia are likely to
become more common as a drier future is expected (Mukheibir, 2010; Chiew et al., 2011;
Askew and Sherval, 2012). The issue of climate change and drought was a contentious topic
for some participants. Regardless of whether drought is part of a natural cycle or of changing
climate, it has produced a cultural change within Australian communities relating to water
attitudes and practices (Head and Muir, 2007; Cary, 2008; Dolnicar and Hurlimann, 2010).
The impacts of drought, particularly the introduction of water restrictions, provided recurring
themes in this research and have reinforced the values and practices spoken of in Chapter
The perception of the water crisis and the influence it had on participants is a strong narrative
in the qualitative research. Similar to Bruvold (1979) and Lam (2006), droughts were
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
perceived by Illawarra participants as a major influence in their conservation of water and a
significant incentive to introduce water saving practices and devices. An examination of
attitudes and practices towards drought revealed a cultural change in the way water was
valued and used in the outdoor area of the home. Lydia – a school teacher and resident of
Austinmer in the northern suburbs of the Illawarra - spoke of this cultural change based on
her personal experience of her neighbourhood and community:
“I think people respond very quickly and I do think people respond quite positively to
being responsible and if climate change happens and the continent becomes a lot
drier then I’m sure people will respond to that because they have indicated that many
times over. I think we just change the best you can change. The type of plants you
plant, the mulch you use and the water you use” (Lydia - Austinmer)
”I think the drought has changed most people’s ideas and thinking. That started to
get people thinking about other ways of using water and to be more careful in regards
to how water was kept in the garden because people would often put on the sprinkler
and leave it for hours...it’s quite interesting how practices are quite different
according to how much you value water as an important resource” (Lydia Austinmer)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Figure 5.2: The backyard of Lydia in Austinmer
Lydia recalls how the drought forced a change in people’s ‘ideas and thinking’ towards a
more conservative water practices. Figure 5.2 shows Lydia’s backyard which highlights this
cultural change. Walking around you notice two rainwater tanks, the use of seaweed to leach
nutrients into the water in her wheelbarrow, a bag of water crystals that Lydia adds to nearly
planted plants, and a bag of sugarcane mulch. All these practices are now habits formed as a
result of the drought and expressed throughout the two week water diary. A study conducted
by Randolph and Troy (2008) examining attitudes of Sydney residents towards water
restrictions discovered similar results as the majority of participants (75%) changed their
water practices in light of water restrictions. Similar to findings by Dingle (2008), there was
conformity among the participants in acceptance of water restrictions during times of a water
crisis, such as drought. Although this change occurred during periods of drought, the
practices undertaken during this time continued well after the drought and water restrictions
ended. As the availability of water changed from prolong drought to abundant rainfall in the
Illawarra, the practices of residents were placed in environmentally and socially changing
circumstances. The perception of participants about other water users is that once the drought
ended, old habits and practices would resurface. This was not the case. For Ann, Lydia,
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Nicole – a mother of two from Oak Flats - and many others, the years of water scarcity and
restrictions in outdoor areas of the home formed routine habits and behaviours that
transitioned through drought and water restrictions to current periods of abundant water
“When the restrictions were really bad we just wouldn’t wash the car and that’s a
habit that’s just stayed...I guess I tend to err on the side of not using water because
those restrictions were so significant for so long I guess. You just got out of the habit
of using water outside” (Ann - Austinmer)
“I think when we had the droughts there was a lot of publicity about water usage and
the water restrictions were in pace then I felt that it was important then to collect rain
water and I think a lot of people have changed their usage of water since the
drought” (Lydia - Austinmer)
“I think the fact that we had that big drought and we had the water restrictions, I
think it did make you have better water saving techniques and practices so I guess
when you have them there they just continue” (Nicole – Oak Flats)
The drought was often a reminder of past experiences or present circumstances of friends and
family, particularly those living in rural areas in Australia. During times of drought, the
historical and social factors of experiences towards water had substantially influenced
conservation practices as participants often reminisced of past times and family and friends.
The most recent drought has placed water at the forefront of public consciousness as the
behaviours, attitudes and values of water are re-evaluated and the cultural change to water
begins to take form. This research supports the argument made by Head and Muir (2007) that
there is a need to change the attitudes and attune household practices to the realism of the
driest inhabited continent on earth.
Water Restrictions: Bringing Drought into the Home
I don’t think [the water restrictions] were bad. I think they were severe and necessary
(Cary – Austinmer)
The impacts of extreme water variability, particularly drought, have been evident across the
landscapes, histories and stories of Australian communities (Chong and White, 2007).
Drought has become synonymous with pressures on rural livelihoods and environmental
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
impacts on regional and national economies. These impacts have extended into urban
backyards where water restrictions have been imposed throughout an unprecedented number
of Australian towns and cities. Water restrictions have primarily been implemented as a
means to reduce ‘discretionary’ (Cooper et al., 2011. pg. 1) domestic outdoor water use on
gardens, vehicles, swimming pools and outdoor cleaning. During periods of reduced supply,
the outside area of the home has been seen as a valid target by water authorities to reduce
water consumption. In the Australia these restrictions have been enforced at a level not
previously experienced by its residents (Cooper et al., 2011; Gilbertson et al., 2011).
Water restrictions emphasise the need for restraint during times of water scarcity. This
restraint in water consumption is part of a broader set of consumptive practices within the
house, the garden and the community (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006). Participants discussed how
some water practices are entrenched in the habitual pleasures of the watering experience.
However, the rules and regulations of water restrictions scrutinises the ‘inconspicuous
practices of consumption’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006. pg. 47) that may invoke feelings of
pleasure and relaxation. Water consumption is placed under layers of practical consciousness
and resurfaces when disturbed by impacts such as water restrictions. The water restrictions
appear to have reduced external water consumption but at a cost to past habitual water
practices. For Kerry – who resides on the fringe of Lake Illawarra at Mount warrigal - the
memory of different water availability extended to her daughter and grandchildren. In the
water diary, Kerry recalls the circumstances her granddaughter – as a ‘baby of drought’ –
grew up in and how pivotal this moment was in her granddaughter’s childhood:
“Reminds me of when my granddaughter was born in drought. She was nearly three
before she felt rain on her and it frightened her. The first time she got wet she cried
and did not like it at all. She does not like to have a shower, and she is ten years old”
(Kerry- Mount Warrigal)
The propensity of households to change outdoor water usage depends not only on their
attitudes, but also the institutional context within which they live and how the cultural change
is accepted and encouraged. Despite the ‘browning of backyards’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2006)
and temptations to use water outside of the allocated time slots, participants – similar to
Dingle (2008) - revealed positive attitudes to the implementation of water restrictions. On
face value, participants are willing to accept mandatory water restrictions and for some
permanent restrictions should be applied. Despite experiencing different water availability of
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
the past few years, as the period of prolonged drought slowly shifted into abundant rainfall,
some participants believe water restrictions should remain in place during times of rainfall
and heightened dam levels. Among those participants the assumption is that once water
restrictions are turned off people will resort back to their original watering behaviours in
which water is overused and undervalued.
“I don’t even know why they changed the restrictions. They should have just left them
there and should not be changed because people will abuse it, or as soon
Warragamba overflows everyone starts partying and turns the hose on just to do their
undies” (James- Austinmer)
I think they should be at some permanency. I wouldn’t have an issue with it. What’s
been really interesting is that when these water restrictions have been in people have
actually made changes and are using less water so those restrictions have actually
had an impact. Whether that would be the case long term we whether it would lose its
gloss I don’t know” (Judy - Balgownie)
The relationship between individuals – such as Judy, a recently retired high school teacher
from Balgownie - and their gardens provides a network for an active engagement in water
storage and distribution. The introduction of water restrictions may be seen as an instrument
that impedes this relationship as it impacts on the everyday habits and routines that maintain
this connection. However, as discussed by James – a landscape constructionist from
Austinmer – and Judy the water restrictions reveal a deeper connection between individuals
and their gardens than previously thought. Although criticised by some human geographers
(Allon, 2004 cited in Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Allon and Sofoulis, 2006; Pearce et al.,
2012), the ‘one-size-fits-all’ (Allon, 2004 cited in Allon and Sofoulis, 2006) approach to
water restrictions has fostered a radical sociotechnical change in households daily outdoor
water practices. It has introduced new perspectives on how water is valued, developed new
ways of household living, and redefined the relationship between the individual and the
garden, as discussed by Ron:
“Originally I used to enjoy just hosing the garden on sunny days because it felt good
to be out there and the plants glistened but once they introduced the water
restrictions and I started to comply with the rules I realised that with the shortage of
water I shouldn’t continue hosing for the fun of it so I hosed when it was needed but I
also checked for the weather forecast so even though I was often disappointed that it
was going to rain in the next few days than I wouldn’t hose the garden at all” (Ron –
Port Kembla)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“Since the water restrictions were brought in I have a high value on water now...it
was because of the water restrictions and how much water was in the dams at the
time and it also made me realise that I couldn’t just use water to stand outside and
use it for no other purpose then to enjoy and having the garden shiny” (Ron – Port
For Ron, watering was about the enjoyment of standing outside and the visual impact his
watering practices would create. Ron became aware these water practices could no longer
continue in light of water restrictions introduced in the early 2000s. Prolonged water
restrictions have frequently been cited by researches as an instrument introduced by water
authorities to encourage greater awareness of water use and to promote environmentally
conscious behaviours at the household level (Harman et al., 2008; Cooper et al., 2011). The
behavioural constraints held over Illawarra residents as a result of the drought have had a
major influence on water usage behaviour since the mandatory restrictions ended. The
majority of participants reported that during water restrictions they adhered to the rules and
regulations. Although some did admit to watering their garden outside allocated time, Stewart
and Merium described it as an exception to everyday practice:
“The restrictions said that you couldn’t water the garden, you couldn’t wash the
concrete and you tend try and accept it but everybody breaks it. Yeah I did water
when the restrictions were on” (Stewart - Keiraville)
“I have snuck the hose when there have been water restrictions, I’ll be honest,
everyone does because you don’t want them to die but I have left the lawn and the
lawn dies” (Merium - Shellharbour)
Participants’ expressed a feeling of guilt when discussing these practices during the
interviews. In the water diaries, Judy spoke of feeling guilt-free after back washing the pool
filter due to days of rainfall [Figure 5.3]. However days later she was ‘furious’ with herself
after placing the filter on the wrong setting:
“Heavy rainfall for the past 24 hours means that I didn’t feel guilty or concerned
when I backwashed the pool filter...Unfortunately, because I forgot (am furious with
myself) I left the filter on ‘RINSE’ which meant that the pump continued to empty the
pool” (Judy – Balgownie)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Figure 5.3: Judy fixing her pool filter
This highlights a state of cultural change described by Allon and Sofoulis (2006) in the way
water is used, most substantially as a result of water restrictions. The water restrictions
undoubtedly imposed limitations on the freedom of Illawarra residents and how and when
they would be allowed to water. For some, a culture of high water use was evident in the
qualitative analysis as continuous engagement with water based leisure activities was crucial
to their households’ culture. This imposition prompted alternative water sources and a change
in practice as households were forced to curb their outdoor water practices. For Lydia and
Frank the purchase of water saving devices, particularly water tanks, were installed as a
means to continue previously enjoyed activities, such as gardening and outdoor cleaning,
without the guilt of breaking the rules and regulations of the water restrictions.
“I think when we had the droughts there was a lot of publicity about water usage and
the water restrictions were in place then I felt that it was important then to collect
rain water and I think a lot of people have changed their usage of water since the
drought’ (Lydia - Austinmer)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“I think when we had the droughts there was a lot of publicity about water usage and
the water restrictions were in pace then I felt that it was important then to collect rain
water and I think a lot of people have changed their usage of water since the
drought” (Lydia - Austinmer)
“That was partly because of the drought and the water availability in dams was going
down and it was quite obvious that the price of water was going to go up... basically
all I can say is that the whole purpose is for me to use as much free, out of the sky
water, I can get” (Frank – Oak Flats)
In conjunction with the findings of Head and Muir (2007), the qualitative analysis revealed
that the water restrictions were the predominant influence on water tank installation. A
cultural shift has occurred as a result of the water restrictions as regions, like the Illawarra,
move away from the normative processes of wasteful water use associated with the latter half
of the 20th century. A shift in normative behaviours, brought about by water restrictions, may
have a lasting influence upon rainwater tank installation, tank water usage and ultimately how
that water will be valued by the household.
Although the water restrictions appeared to place water saving back on most peoples agendas
and reinforced a conservative perspective to outdoor water practices, the burden of the
restrictions were shouldered by all users, socially and financially. Participants identified these
burdens to include the economic cost to the household of installation of rainwater tanks and
grey water systems; retrofitting outdoor taps and pipes; replacing dead and dying plants and
lawn; and other water saving practices relating to pools, cleaning and salt spray. Some of the
costs imposed on households as a result of the water restrictions, particularly rainwater tanks,
are now seen as crucial elements of backyards. For the most part, these water saving devices
where implemented to counteract the impacts of the restrictions and allow autonomous
control over household water practices. For Katherine and her husband, cleaning practices are
essential due to her waterfront position [Figure 5.4]. At the beginning of the drought Alison
installed a rainwater tank under her back veranda. Rainwater tanks are now seen as one of the
most influential strategies in moulding contemporary community attitudes and behaviours
towards pro-environmental water practices.
“I guess having to pay for things yourself makes you value things more so I guess
that’s part of it. I think the fact that we had that big drought and we had the water
restrictions, I think it did make you have better water saving techniques and practices
so I guess when you have them there they just continue” (Nicole – Oak Flats)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“There wouldn’t have been an exact time I think it just seeps into your consciousness
that yes we have to get a tank and how can we address this. Maybe it was the first
restrictions, I thought there were restrictions around 8 years ago during the drought
so I think since that time, certainly in our house, we wouldn’t do things like hose the
driveway, have a sprinkler on” (Katherine- Austinmer)
“I guess we are conscious of water restrictions and things they have asked you to do
like the proper nozzles on your hoses and we certainly purchase those based on those
recommendations and they are sensible things to I guess” (Nicole – Oak Flats)
Figure 5.4: The view from Katherine’s backyard
Sofoulis’s (2005. pg. 456) criticism of water restrictions is that it creates an image of
households as ‘thoughtless water-wasters, incapable of making choices’. An alternative focus
of analysis is the effect restrictions have on the water practices of individuals. The water
restrictions discussed in this study appear to have positively impacted outdoor water practices
during and after the restrictions by altering watering practices and reducing consumption.
How individuals value water changes between and within different water regimes and the
circumstances in which households are placed. Although water restrictions have been
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
implemented on a short term basis by state governments, their ramifications are long term.
Participants have expressed how their water practices and attitudes have changed well after
the restrictions ended in the Illawarra and why these practices are maintained despite
experiencing high rainfall over recent years.
Climate Change
Climate change is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it a future condition; anthropogenic
climate change began well over a century ago (Weber, 2010). A modern scientific
understanding of nature has allowed us to quantify our past and present impacts on climate.
Many of these impacts will occur through water and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (2013) has stated that freshwater resources are vulnerable to the climatic observations
and projections of climate change. Patterns and distribution of domestic, industrial and
agricultural water use in Australia are already vulnerable to existing natural climate
variability, they are likely to be particularly sensitive to climate change. The impacts of
climate change are no longer potential threats but are now an inevitable reality with severe
consequences for water resources in Australia (Sadoff and Muller, 2009). However, despite
this reality, scepticism on the issue of climate change still remains and these perceptions are
crucial in identifying environmental problems and possible solutions.
Climate change represents a stressor on water resource systems already under stress due to
previous drought and mismanagement, and increasing demand. Climate change predictions
place Australia’s water – in terms of economy and prosperity – in a vulnerable position. A
spectrum of different impacts are associated with climate change and according to
participants, water availability appears to be the most worrying. With drought, flooding, and
water restrictions likely to become more prolonged and severe, participants are highly
concerned about the prospects climate change may enforce on Illawarra households.
However, it is not just a crisis of water availability that is worrying the public but also a
cultural and sociotechnical crisis. Climate change places stress on all points of domestic
water use. Consequently, households are shouldered the moral, financial and practical
responsibility to save water during times of water restriction and drought. Stewart speaks
about this moral responsibility as he explains the conflicting dilemma between saving water
and keeping his plants alive:
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
“You look at the sun and you wonder how long is it going to last. You think the same
way about water, how long will it last and the little seed in the back of the mind tells
you that you need water for this plant to survive but I also need to conserve the water
to know that its more than just me in the world” (Stewart - Keiraville)
Climate change is a complex phenomenon, with multiple interdependent social and
environmental impacts, multiple areas of scientific research that are in some cases contested
or incomplete, and multiple indeterminate or unknown future impacts (Pidgeon, 2012). The
majority of participants accepted the claims that anthropogenic climate change was an
occurring phenomenon and the consequences require immediate and comprehensive
responses. However for a small number of participants, climate change remains a temporally
and spatially distant issue and undercurrents of doubt were noticeable and influential as they
spoke about the impact climate change has on their lives. Consequently, some people do not
view climate change as having a direct impact on them, nor do they perceive it as being
relevant. The wilful denial that their actions as individuals will cause future personal losses or
the view that the impacts of climate change are not apparent in everyday life has contributed
to the thinking of some participants. These reasons, among others, have contributed to the
difficulty for the public to conceptualise climate change and relate it to their daily water
practices. The perceptions of this minority are fuelled by personal experience and
observations and perhaps an unwillingness to change their present way of living. Hulme
(2009) proposes that this stance on climate change is caused by the complexity and scope of
the issue. As it is not a well-defined problem with a well-defined solution, gaps in knowledge
and future projections of climate change present evidence to support scepticism and
uncertainty. Kerry and James are a part of this minority and express their doubt over the
anthropogenic impact and the conflicting science:
“I don’t really believe in the o-zone thingy because if you go back in history there are
natural cycles and that causes a lot of it today and it’s a worry that so much of the ice
is melting but I think that was going to happen whether you had toxins in the air or
not” (Kerry – Mount Warrigal)
“I don’t think it’s proven. The science isn’t there or its actually conflicting science.
There is changing climate but I don’t think to the detriment of how much is human
induced, they can’t even provide all the facts. A lot of it is hearsay, other people’s
opinions and what they think and how we should live” (James- Austinmer)
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
In contrast, Judy and Chris speak with frustration about the argument over climate change.
Their opinions spoke for the majority of the participants that believe anthropogenic climate
change is a real and occurring event:
“If you don’t think it’s real you’re a nong. That’s my honest opinion. It’s frightening.
I’ve read that people knew about it thirty years ago. I think it’s so crucial and
important that to me it’s the single biggest issue facing me, the country, the planet”
(Judy - Balgownie)
“There’s no argument about it anymore. Is there? The argument is not about climate
change now it’s just about how to deal with it, that’s what we should be having the
argument about. It’s ridiculous to think that all the scientists in the world, 99.9% of
them, one guy puts out a paper about how sceptical he is about it and all these people
say it’s not true” (Chris - Corrimal)
In concurrence with past research (Randolph and Troy, 2008; Gibson et al., 2011), the
research finds that acceptance of climate change - has had little effect on the water practices
of individuals, households and communities. The qualitative analysis suggests that it is other
factors that contribute to water saving behaviours. Factors including water restrictions,
drought severity and water pricing, as discussed above, were felt to have a greater impact on
water usage. Although climate literacy is a desired asset, a recurring narrative in the climate
change and behaviour analysis shows little indication of climate change as the predominant
factor for water conservation. That is not to say that climate change was not present within
participants environmental and ethical consciousness, but it appeared among other factors
that may have been at the forefront of decision-making. Across a socio-economic continuum,
the changing culture of household water patterns is not predominantly driven by concerns of
climate change, rather the costs and changing household social circumstances. Climate
change is in the mix but is not at the forefront of decision making.
Throughout the qualitative analysis, Illawarra residents demonstrated an appreciation for the
patterns created by water and engaged in the diverse, complex and changing meanings,
values and practices associated with water availability. The impact of drought and water
restrictions has been crucial to the understanding and influence of meanings, values and
practices in the Illawarra region.
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Rather than thinking the causes, effects and future outlook of climate change will result in
behavioural changes to outdoor household water use; it inconveniently appears to be far more
complex. The implicated decisions and responses of participants to previous droughts and
water restrictions are informed by a range of factors; only one of which may be climate
change. Practices and attitudes are the result of complex interactions between individuals,
households, communities and institutions within physical and social environments (Gregory
and Di-Leo, 2003). This analysis has highlighted the mismatch between an understanding and
concern for water and water-related practices. Attitudes are shown to not always reflect a
change in water practices. However, the majority of participants, whether a consequence of
climate change or not, have transformed their water practices as a result of impeded
restrictions, prolonged droughts and climate change.
Jonathon Cook | Water Availability
Chapter Six
Source: Jonathon Cook, 2013
This chapter revisits the aims of the thesis, reflects upon the methodological approach, and
summarises the key findings of the research project. To close, implications for policy and
areas for further research are discussed.
The overarching aim of this thesis is to investigate how outdoor household water is valued, in
the context of changing water availability. In addressing this overarching aim it must be
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
acknowledged that these values are enveloped within a range of cultural and environmental
contexts. To explore these contexts, this research will seek to answer two specific aims:
1. How are water values expressed through everyday outdoor water practices?
2. How do everyday water practices and values relate to water availability?
By evaluating the importance of particular water practices, Chapter Four seeks to determine
whether practices are consistent with water values and how practices have changed over time.
With rainfall variability experienced in the Illawarra, the second aim is addressed in Chapter
Five, which attempts to explore whether the practices, attitudes and values of water have been
influenced by changing water availability. It is hoped that this work will contribute to the
progress of water conservation measures and development of strategies towards a cultural
shift in water intensive household practices.
In answering these questions, this thesis seeks to contribute to a body of research that
explores how water is meaningfully positioned within the sociocultural environment of the
Illawarra. These aims have been addressed through the literature that seeks to re-define the
value of water, evaluate water practices in Australian backyards, and explore different water
availability including the impact of past experiences on today’s water culture.
The mixed-method approach adopted in this thesis – involving semi-structured interview,
water diaries and diary-interviews – has allowed triangulation of results highlighting
consistencies and new insights while minimising errors. The semi-structured interview
provided insights into the experiences, values and meanings that participants attribute to
water, and how these meanings differ from person to person. The semi-structured interviews
allowed a set of beliefs, events and experiences to be voiced by the participants.
The water diaries capture life as it is being lived. The diaries were used as a self-reporting
tool and a medium for participants to reflect on everyday experiences. The challenge here
was to create a diary structure that was neither confusing nor onerous. The original aim of the
water diary was to provide greater detail of everyday water practices. However, the purpose
of the water diary changed during the project. The water diaries became a reference point to
evaluate consistencies and trends in water practices that were noted in the diary and in the
interview process. By using the diaries in this manner, consistent or contradictory practices
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
were discovered, and ordinary events and observations that were neglected in the interview
process were captured. The diary-interview provided the final point for the triangulation of
the mixed-method approach. This approach allowed a departure point from the events
recorded in the diaries to be explored in greater depth and provided an opportunity for
participant-specific questions based on the water diary and semi-structured interview. The
combined methods provided in-depth, nuanced narratives on how water is valued and used in
the outdoor area of the home. Although the water diary was used in a manner it was not
originally set out to achieve, it became very useful to this thesis.
Chapter Four has sought to address both the overarching aim of this thesis – to investigate
how outdoor household water is valued, in the context of changing water availability – and
the additional aim: how are water values expressed through everyday outdoor water
Regarding attitudes to and values associated with water in the Illawarra, the research revealed
two distinct groups. One group made observations on ‘big water’ (Sofoulis, 2009) issues – a
system that embodies a historical fantasy of endless supply – and a second group expressed a
sense of personal responsibility for water. Some participants explicitly linked their outdoor
water practices to major, large-scale water issues, and for these, the construction of water
drainage and storage systems were an extension of their ideas about responsibility.
Resourcefulness and practicality directed the actions of some participants and accentuated the
sense of responsibility they felt. For others the theme of ‘desire’ was frequently introduced to
articulate wants, needs and dreams surrounding water. Desire encapsulated aspirations of
installing a water tank or water saving devices and plants. Extending from the idea of desire,
a number of emotional responses and experiences were raised. Participants spoke of the
‘happiness’ and pleasure gained from connecting with the garden through the watering
practice. These practices are entrenched in the habitual pleasure of watering the garden, and
renders the networks, deemed by some as invisible (Kaika, 2005), visible through active
engagement with the outdoor area. Participants recalled water practices that were banal and
creative, resourceful and imaginative. These practices - influenced by broader social
processes - have transformed the ways water is valued. The relationship between people and
the outdoor area of the home allows the values, everyday practices and engagement with the
outdoor area to be played out.
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
Consciousness of water saving is not a recent phenomenon in people’s lives. Participants
connected with past experiences of their childhood, the normality of water scarcity and the
harshness of the Australian environment. A personal history of dependence on water
availability correlated with current water conscious practices and attitudes, and a greater
involvement with outdoor water networks. For those individuals who have lived a significant
period of their life during times of water scarcity they continue to place a high value on water
as a result of past experiences. The water saving practices formed as a result of those
experiences, have been ingrained in everyday water habits. This connection between present
and past experiences is an important evaluation in understanding the different ways in which
water is valued today. In contrast, another generation of participants spoke of a different
history of water practice – profligate water use during the late 1960s and 70s. It was during
this time that the outdoor area became a household’s ‘own piece of nature’ and participants
recalled the ‘liberal’ use of water at that time. The values people place on water have been
articulated through lived experiences. Backgrounds and histories are diverse and the values
that result become embedded in contemporary water practices and attitudes.
Different water sources and strategies for water saving were revealed as cross cutting themes;
these included rainwater tanks, water recycling, and the introduction of native plants. Two
groups of rainwater tank owners emerged. For one group rainwater tanks facilitated sustained
participation in intensive water practices and engagement with leisure based activities; while
the other group – environmentally motivated tank owners – were governed by a sense of duty
to the environment that reinforced an ethical and moral consciousness towards water
conservation. While these groups demonstrate a set of defined water practices, this is not to
say that intensive water users are not environmentally conscious. This study revealed the
attitudes and practices discussed in the semi-structured interviews were often contradicted by
regular high-volume water activities, as noted in the water diaries. The value of rainwater
tank water is understood by most participants, across both groups, in terms of its
independence from mains water.
Participants exhibited not only an interest in recycled water but degrees of participation in
alternative water practices. In contrast to other research that suggests that people are
unwilling to recycle water in their own homes (Russell and Hampton, 2006; Nancarrow et al.,
2009), in this research participants showed an eagerness and enthusiasm for the potential of
water recycling and reuse in their home. This perception and willingness to go against social
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
norms extended to the frequent use of washing machine water on gardens. The motivation
that participants expressed is not restricted to minor reuse strategies. They extend to diversion
and treatment processes that would utilise indoor water reuse, such as reusing water collected
in the shower for use in toilets and for outdoor purposes. Although some of these strategies
require council approval, participants are showing they are strongly supportive of a cultural
shift in water reuse and recycling. The final section of water saving techniques is the
introduction of native plants. Used by most participants, introducing native plants to the
outside area of the home is seen as a method of drought-resisting by creating a sense of
freedom and assurance in water consumption. A cultural shift is again evident as participants
move away from flowering plants that require greater amounts of water to native and
drought-resistant plants.
Chapter Five again explores the overarching aim of the thesis, and seeks to address the
second of two further aims: how do everyday water practices and values relate to water
This research revealed ways in which water availability has influenced current water
practices in the outdoor area of the home. When participants of the Illawarra spoke of water it
often invoked ideas of intimacy, compassion and concern. These perceptions of water are
qualities that tend to be overlooked by dominant discourses of valuing water. The water
practices are often more about the act of watering than the result. Many participants spoke of
the therapeutic qualities and aesthetically pleasing results that watering can achieve. This
understanding of water fosters attachments to specific waters (Gibbs, 2010). Water is
frequently described as valuable, finite, clean and precious. The value of water is not simply
defined in terms of its monetary value, but the research has revealed a greater significance
and personal sense of responsibility at play. The patterns created by changing water
availability influences and shapes participants’ interaction with water.
The most recent drought to hit Australia placed water at the forefront of household
consciousness. This study revealed that the drought produced a cultural change relating to
water practices and attitudes in Australian communities. The research showed that water
restrictions reduced water consumption, but at a cost to habitual water practices. For some
these practices were stopped, while for others it meant an alternative water source was
needed to continue those practices. As water restrictions imposed limitations on the freedom
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
of water use, participants turned to rainwater tanks to continue a household culture of high
water use. On face value, water restrictions are an instrument that often impedes outdoor
water practices, but this research reveals something to the contrary. Participants revealed an
important connection to their outdoor area and an active relationship between themselves and
their garden. The restrictions emphasised this significance to participants and fostered a new
outlook on how water is valued, redefined the relationship between the individual and the
garden and developed new watering practices. This research on drought and water restrictions
has again emphasised the cultural shift away from normative processes of wasteful water use.
In this thesis, the phrase ‘water availability’ describes a range of different ways in which
‘availability’ of water has changed in Australia, and specifically in the Illawarra. In the
context of climate change, it is becoming likely that the availability of water is going to
change in Australia. The perception of climate change is crucial for developing possible
solutions and identifying environmental problems at the community level. For the majority of
participants, anthropogenic climate is a real, occurring process that requires immediate
attention. Others expressed scepticism about anthropogenic climate change, arguing that the
science remains uncertain and that the issue is temporally and spatially distant. The research
findings on climate change showed little indication that climate change was the predominant
influence on water conservation in Illawarra households. Across the socio-economic
continuum, climate change appears to be positioned behind other factors – such as financial
and changing household social circumstances – that have influenced a cultural change in
household water practices. The relationship between the cultural change and climate change
appear to be far more complex than previously thought.
Implications for Policy
The ‘mono-dimensional’ (Allon and Sofoulis, 2010) or ‘environmentally centred’ (Sofoulis,
2005) approaches to influencing water use that attempts to change the culture of water use by
informing people of the value of water – as if they are ignorant of it – is unlikely to succeed
on its own. The evidence of the willingness to change water use in the Illawarra presented in
this thesis suggests that developing a better understanding of the social and cultural norms
and identities of Illawarra residents may provide greater potential for change. This includes
ensuring the connections between households and the outdoor area – particularly the garden –
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
are maintained. An understanding of everyday water practices and the socio-cultural domain
of water is vital for the development and introduction of water-related policy.
Government and water authorities have developed a range of policies and regulatory methods
for dealing with divergent interpretations of water value. The impacts of water restrictions
appear to be long term, despite being implemented only on a short term basis, as everyday
practices are maintained well after the restrictions have ended. Implementing residential
water restrictions as permanent cultural fixtures is an option available to water authorities and
should be considered to maintain adequate water consumption. At this stage, the ‘one-sizefits-all’ (Sofoulis, 2005) restrictions appear not to be enough in fostering radical degrees of
socio-technical change for all household. Residents appear to be blamed for living in a time
during which the systems and technologies deliver the illusion of endless water supply and
they are then shouldered the moral, financial and practical responsibility to save water. This
is despite governments and water authorities assuming the responsibility for over a century in
the name of modernity and growth. This research suggests that permanent water restrictions
would influence those households whose practices are not maintained at times of different
water availability. By influencing a suburban cultural change in appropriate water use,
permanent water restrictions would disrupt the acceptability of intensive water use at any
Water pricing has been seen as an effective instrument in reducing the consumption and lead
to household water efficiencies Australia-wide (Willies, et al., 2013). Water pricing is used as
the predominant economic incentive tool to not only charge for domestic water but also
discourage wasteful water practices. Based largely on an economists view, the efficiency of
pricing was a theme raised by many participants. Raising the price of water and moving full
cost to the consumer appears to be an effective conservation mechanism, as participants
described price to be one of the foremost motivators to reduce consumption. This instrument
redirects the reliance on monitoring regulatory factors such as water restrictions, or
behavioural change campaigns that requires constant reviewing. However, the social value of
water is at play here as water pricing impacts households that demonstrate an active
engagement with the outdoor area. Water pricing as a method to reduce profligate water use
should be assessed in this context as pricing will have social implications; it is not a simple
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
Future Research
Understanding outdoor water practices, in the context of changing water availability, is an
area that has to date received limited research attention. This study has revealed a number of
sociocultural research areas that warrant further attention, including; longitudinal and
generational studies, attitudes to water restrictions post augmentation projects and the
invisibility of networks.
A longitudinal study has not been possible within the time-frame of this research project.
Future research could investigate the values of water at times of different water availability,
and the water practices associated with those circumstances. That is to say, research would be
conducted during times of drought or water restrictions, and then again post drought. This
would provide a more nuanced understanding of the attitudes and practices at specific times,
rather than attempting to recall those years later.
For future considerations of policy development, a generational study would also be of
benefit. This research has revealed that it was predominantly older generations that exhibited
water saving practices as a result of past experiences. A generational comparison of attitudes
and practices may provide future alternative policy directions for water authorities and
governments. Both longitudinal and generational studies would gain insight into the process
of household practices and attitudinal change and access the effectiveness of current or past
measure to increase public acceptance.
Augmentation projects, such as desalination plants, are becoming increasingly prominent
around Australia. This area demands further attention. It would be beneficial to explore
community opinion on the role of water restrictions once these centralised projects are in
place and in use. This would not only add to the current debate regarding water restrictions,
but also the factors that facilitate a change in attitudes and practices.
The concept of visible and invisible networks was an interesting theme that emerged in this
study. Now that there appears to be a cultural change in how water is used in the outdoor
areas of the home, further research on the networks of water that connect the outdoor and
indoor areas is warranted. Linking ideas of cleanliness, water reuse and water recycling, and
the networks that supply these relationships would be of interest. This area of research is
Jonathon Cook | Conclusion
particularly relevant at a time when people are becoming more enthused and motivated by the
practice of water networks to supply the outdoor area of the home. Extending from the idea
of Kaika (2005) these networks tend to be invisible because of the dirtiness or the ‘yuck’
factor that particular water holds. However, as these types of water become more accepted –
as they appear to be in this research - further work is required to asses not only the attitudinal
and behavioural changes, but where they can be improved and how they may become more
Jonathon Cook |
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Jonathon Cook |
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Wollongong
NSW 2522 Australia
Telephone: 0411 837 036
Email: jc975@uowmail.edu.au
Participant Information Sheet
‘Outdoor water values: daily practice and changing water regimes in the
Jonathon Cook
This is an invitation to participate in a research project.
Purpose of the research
The project is concerned with how people value water through their practices and behaviour in the
context of changing water regimes in Illawarra. It aims to investigate:
1. how residents value outdoor water through their daily watering practices; and
2. In the context of different regimes of water availability, to investigate how practices,
perceptions and values change within households.
The research is funded by a University of Illawarra, School of Earth & Environmental Science
honours grant.
Your involvement
If you are willing to be involved in this research I will conduct an interview with you that is likely to
last between 30 and 60 minutes, depending on how much time you have available. If you agree, I will
record the interview. The only people who will access the recording and transcript are myself and my
supervisor Leah Gibbs. In addition to the interview I would like you to keep a water diary for a four
week period. The purpose of the water diary is for you to record your water usage in the outdoor areas
of your home and describe your reasoning for practices and any changing ideas on those practices.
You may choose to be identified in my research by name, or by an ID code.
If you agree to be involved, you may withdraw from the project at any time, and you will not be
negatively affected in any way.
Expected outcomes
Findings from this study will be used in my honours thesis that may become published in a scholarly
journal article.
This research will shape a larger project on participation in water values, and I hope the results will
contribute to development of more comprehensive analysis of outdoor water use.
Questions or complaints
If you have any questions of concerns, you may ask me at any time before, during or after the
interview. If you have any concerns or complaints about the way the research is conducted, you
should contact the University of Wollongong Ethics Officer on 02 4221 4457.
Thank you very much for considering being involved in my research.
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Wollongong
NSW 2522 Australia
Telephone: 0411 837 036
Email: jc975@uowmail.edu.au
Consent Form for Research Participants
‘Outdoor Water Values: daily practice and changing water regimes in the
Jonathon Cook
I have discussed this research project with Jonathon Cook, and have been given information about the
project. I understand that Jonathon is conducting this research as part of his work at the University of
I have been advised of what is involved in participating in this project, including how much time will
be required, and I have had an opportunity to ask questions about the research and my participation.
I understand that my participation is voluntary, and I am free to withdraw from the research at any
time. If I choose to do so I will not be negatively affected in any way.
If I have any questions about the research, I can contact Jonathon by phone or email. If I have any
concerns or complaints I can contact the Ethics Officer in the Research Services Office, University of
Wollongong, on 02 4221 4457.
By signing below I am indicating my consent to:
participate in an interview, likely to last between 30 and 60 minutes; and
have the interview recorded, so it can be transcribed.
participate in the water diary over a four week period
I understand that the information collected during the interview and the water diary may be used for
an honours thesis and possibly published as a scholarly journal article, and I consent for it to be used
in that manner.
In this research project I wish to be identified by:
First name;
Not to be identified.
School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
University of Wollongong
NSW 2522 Australia
Telephone: 0411 837 036
Email: jc975@uowmail.edu.au
Interview questions
‘Outdoor Water Values: daily practice and changing water regimes in the
Jonathon Cook
The interviews to be conducted as part of this research will be semi-structured. The questions below
indicate the themes that will be covered in the interviews.
Your water practices
Can you start by telling me a little bit about how you use water in the outside areas of your
Can you tell me why those water use practices that you’ve described are important to you?
Outdoor water
What parts of the outdoor area are most important for you and for water use in your
Water practices and behaviours
What water practices are most important to you? And why?
What water practices require the most water in your outdoor area of your home?
Do you employ any water saving techniques to the outdoor areas of your home?
Different water availability
As you no doubt know, water availability changes at different times. For example, when there is very
high rainfall or drier times, water restrictions or prolonged drought.
Have different water regimes affected the way you use water in the outdoor area of your
home? If so, how? And why?
Can you tell me about any specific times when different water availability changed your
water use practices?
Can you see yourself changing your water practices (again) in the future?
Climate change
Scientists are saying that climate change is likely to have a range of implications for water in different
parts of the world. In south eastern Australia it is quite complex
Do you think that climate change is having any effects on your everyday life, and on how you
use water in the outdoor areas of your home? If so, how? And why?
Do you think climate change is likely to affect your life and water use in future? If so, what
sorts of changes do you think it might have?
Do you think climate change should have any effect on water and water policy issues in
Your role in valuing water
Have you noticed any changes in the importance of water to you?
Has this affected your water use practices in any way?
Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about?
Do you have any questions for me?
End this interview with these things:
Explain what will happen from here.
Ask or confirm if they are willing to do the Water Diary.
Make sure that they know how to contact you and me if they have any questions or concerns
Daily Water Diary
Name: _________________________
Date: ____/___/_2013
The aim of the water diary is to provide an account of your daily water usage on the external
the home
area of
Please take note of individual water use and practices you undertook in the backyard
or outside areas of your home. These might include: watering the garden, washing the
car, cleaning, maintaining the swimming pool, playing with children etc.
Through the day
Daily thoughts;
o This section is allocated to your overall thoughts on today’s water practices. Please
take note of anything that seems important to you.
o Please also comment on how the individual water practices and experiences may
change at different times, such as during water restrictions, periods of drought, or
periods of heavy rainfall.
Diary Interview Question Structure
Water Diary;
 What did you think about the structure of the water diary?
 What were the positives and negatives aspects associated with completing the water diary?
 Did the diary remind you of any practice or values relating to water that were not mentioned
in the interview or diary process?
 Do you have any other comments or observations about the diary?
Water Value;
 How has the most recent drought affected the way you value water in the outside area of your
 Have your previous life experiences affected the way you value water in the outside area of
your home?
o If you think back to when you were growing up …was the way you used water
different then? Did you think differently about water then? Do you think you valued
water differently?
o Why do you think your water use and the values you place on water are different
 Do you value water more now than in the past? Why?
 How do you think your ideas about water use and the values of water have been formed?
What sorts of things have changed your ideas over time?