Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (Honours)


School of Earth & Environmental Science


Leah Gibbs


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.

FoR codes (2008)

160403 Social and Cultural Geography



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.