Carrie Wilkinson stands against a orange water tank, with her hands infront. Carrie wear a navy sweater, blue denim jeans and a maroon scarf

ACCESS Seminar: Constructing rainwater tanks: unpacking the colonial-urban-historical geography of a domestic icon

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  • Wollongong Campus
    Building 21. G04
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In Australia, from the time of the invasion of the First Fleet in 1788 and the establishment of British colonies, to the present day, the struggle to secure freshwater has underlain the struggle for European colonisation and capitalist society. This presentation examines the discourses produced and circulated by different institutions about rainwater tanks and household-collected rainwater as a source of domestic water. I examine the rainwater tank in the context of four broad discursive shifts. Rainwater tanks have been framed by institutions and individuals, through regulations and policy as: offering ‘promise’ of survival in the context of European colonisation; being a ‘villain’ in the context of political ideas that aligned dam building with modernity and the nation-state; being a ‘saviour’ in the context of the Millennium Drought and household water restrictions, and; offering ‘possibility’ in the context of ageing mains-infrastructure, population growth and increasing climate variability. In charting discourses that frame rainwater tanks as a source of domestic water provision, I show how experiences with rainwater tanks in regional and rural areas are largely invisible due to political concerns with water supply for cities. Beyond urban settlements, households and communities have subsisted through history with decentralised and limited water resources and infrastructures. There are important lessons to be learned from these contexts for living with variable and limited water supplies.


Dr Carrie Wilkinson lives and works on Walbunja and Yuin Country on the far south coast. A human geographer by training, Carrie is interested in the relationships between people and place. Her writing has explored community preparedness and response to bushfires, more-than-human entanglements in fieldwork, human-water tanks relations, and the climate emergency. Carrie completed her PhD at the University of Wollongong in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities in 2022. This presentation draws on her PhD thesis Beyond Mains Water: A Study of Households that are Off-Grid for Water in Regional New South Wales, Australia. Carrie is currently a Senior Project Officer in the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. Her current work supports programs to embed knowledge of environmental and cultural assets in fire management planning and bushfire response.