'The exceptional circumstances under which we are working': railways and water in Australasia, 1870s to 1914
2020 Australian Historical Association. Railways provide a new and beneficial way to understand water in Australasian history. This article studies the railway networks of all seven British colonies in Australasia to interpret the interactions and mutual agency between railways and water. It takes in the period from the 1870s to 1914, when railway networks became the dominant land transport for passengers and goods, to examine three forms of interaction: consumption, flooding and scarcity. Railways not only used water, they assessed and interpreted it, modified it, transported it for their own purposes and as a form of state aid, and responded to its fluctuations. Early railway engineers often did not fully appreciate Australian hydrology, but as water flowed through the new landscapes formed by railways, it induced adaptations in railway operations. The comparative scope reveals the full sweep of interactions as diverse and, at times, innovative. Water and railways emerge as central characters in each other's history.