From water engineers to financial engineering: Water provision in Australia's east coast capital cities, 1945-2015

Seamus O'Hanlon, Peter Spearritt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


This article analyzes the provision of urban water in Australia’s three east coast capital cities—Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne—from the big dams of the post–World War II years to recently completed desalination plants. We trace how major statutory authorities and their engineers built up both their organizations and their water storage and distribution assets in the Fordist 1950s and 1960s, before these bodies were restructured under the guise of neoliberal notions of accountability and profitability. In their quest to break apart the key institutional pillars of the mid-twentieth-century city, some Leftist critics of the Fordist state may have inadvertently sown the seeds of the neoliberal city of the early twenty-first century. We conclude that the new market-driven organizations are just as interested in their own survival as were their predecessors, and demonstrate even less trust in the general public’s knowledge and practice around water use and conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)98-112
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • dams
  • desalination plants
  • Fordism
  • neoliberalism
  • statutory authorities
  • urban water

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