Water in an Arid Land

Article | Updated 11 months ago

European explorers and prospectors had little knowledge or understanding of the harsh, dry environment they faced in Australia’s arid regions. They often forced Aboriginal people to reveal the location of their ‘hidden’ water sources.

Surface water, even in the form of rock holes, was not met with. Native wells had to be depended on, and these can only be found by following the tracks of and catching the natives.

David Carnegie, Explorer and prospector, 1897

These had been carefully protected and conserved over generations before the arrival of Europeans. The traditional owners of the lands surrounding Kalgoorlie had depended on these water sources for thousands of years. The sources included wells, claypans, soaks and springs.

Kapi . . . means the place where you get your permanent water. Where there is kapi, there is ngurra [home], and it goes without saying that your kapi is in your ngurrara [country].

Kado Muir, Ngalia, 2007

How did Europeans adapt to the arid environment? As the population exploded, new methods were needed. How did C.Y. O'Connor solve the water problem?


Men laying pipes across the Darling Ranges, c.1902
Laying pipes across the Darling Ranges, c.1902
Courtesy State Library of Western Australia 001284D