Water has played a key role in the development of the Australian inland and the nation. For European colonists, the dry and variable landscape challenged ideas about nature imported from northern temperate regions. I argue first, that colonists brought with them ideas for ordering nature and tools for transforming landscapes that led to inappropriate and destructive water management and the silencing of local voices and knowledge systems. Secondly, colonial patterns of ordering and transforming landscapes are ongoing, but new ways of governing water, which challenge colonialism, are emerging. In the first section of the paper I discuss colonial relationships with water; in particular the methods of irrigation, river diversion, and bore drilling. In the second section I consider contemporary manifestations of colonial relationships between humans and water, focusing on the bureaucratic separation of land and water, the problematic definition of a river, and the ongoing desire to drought-proof the inland. In the third section I examine emerging ways of governing Australian water, which emphasise knowledge and interconnection, and in so doing challenge ongoing colonial relationships. I describe these two ways of governing water as existing in tension; a tension between engineering-based and knowledge-based approaches to water governance. © 2009 Pion Ltd and its Licensors.