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Water management - what about the people?

“Seeing young students like you who care,” some of the older residents of the Mary Valley in South East Queensland, Australia told Masters student Anna Argyroudi, “gives us hope that water and land will one day be managed in a sustainable way.”
Water management - what about the people?

Greek exchange student, Anna Argyroudi

Coming from the second largest city in Greece, Anna asked herself: “Are we young students really respecting the water and land the same way as these farmers and landholders do, who live so close to them? Are we missing a part of this sense? Because most water management students live in cities and study in cities.”  

For her thesis, Anna wanted to explore the emergent worldviews and dilemmas of the people in the Mary Valley area after the Traveston dam proposal was announced by the Queensland Government. What she discovered, however, was that her thesis turned out to be not just an exploration of the Mary River situation, but also a journey of self-discovery.  

In Greek, the word ‘thesis’ means ‘position’, and the ‘position’ Anna realised she needed to take after living with the Mary Valley residents, was that water management students must personally experience the lifestyle of the people who live close to the rivers and land to truly know and respect what land and water mean to human beings and communities. As one farmer pointed out, “we have to ensure our grandchildren will be able to enjoy a healthy river, otherwise we cannot say that we love them.” 

Anna has just completed a four-month training and research program in Australia with the International WaterCentre (IWC), completing her Masters thesis on ‘Dilemmas and Learning Accounts around the Traveston Dam Proposal on the Mary River’. 

After graduating from universities in Greece and France, Anna said she realised that something was missing in water management. “We had been educated to become ‘water technicians’, experts in ‘parts’ of knowledge, but overlooking the ‘whole’,” she said. “The question for me at that point was: What about the people?” 

This question eventually led Anna to Australia to take up a placement as a trainee research associate with the International WaterCentre in Brisbane. She was attracted by the International WaterCentre’s Integrated Water Management program, and asked IWC Senior Lecturer, Dr Peter Oliver, to supervise her study. 

“Anna is a thoughtful and reflective person,” commented Dr Oliver. “She immersed herself fully in the Mary River situation, gently yet persistently seeking to understand exactly what was happening in terms of the people of the valley and what the dam proposal meant to them. It was an absolute pleasure to watch the scholarly way in which Anna went about her work and provide any support that she needed.”

“Through the course of this study,” Anna said, “my worldview and lifestyle have undergone a major change. What have I learnt ...?

  • That research boundaries are not geographical, but value driven. “I saw that people considered themselves as stakeholders in this dam proposal, even though they were not affected by the flooding, but because of their environmental concerns. They perceived themselves as victims of not just a flawed proposal, but also of a flawed perception of managing water.
  • That people have put their personal lives aside in order to overturn the proposal – not for personal interest or political agendas, but because they visualise a future with a healthy river – they feel that this is their duty.
  • That when people say one is lucky to live in Australia, they sometimes say that because they think that the resources are unlimited. Are the rivers just another commodity and Australia still a postcolonial pool of unexploited resources? Are we short of water in South East Queensland, or are we short of knowing how to manage water smartly? And is there a well crystallised post-colonial mindset of Australia being completely unique, or are we still transferring the water management practices from the metropolitan/European context?
  • That my preconceptions about Australia have changed. I thought it was unique in protecting nature, but it is no different from the rest of the world – the basic patterns of human behaviour are universal.
  • That my informants were all extremely well-informed. From early Country Women’s Associations to the development of landcare groups, networking and community organisation play an important role in the Australian lifestyle.
  • And most importantly: That the catchment is a social construction – a complex, ever-changing system of lifestyles and knowledge – and this has huge implications for water resources management. “I have never come across a case of a proposed dam,” Anna said, “one that has not even been approved yet – that has caused such great human and social anguish.”

The time Anna spent living with the people of the Mary Valley – sharing their knowledge and their generosity and personally experiencing the land and the river – is a treasure that she will take back to Europe with her. 
Anna thinks she may pursue a position (or a “thesis”, as she says, in Greek) in the water management sector in Greece, taking with her this treasure of her personal experience of a fertile and “giving” land and the warmth of the residents of the Mary River Valley, and to continue to try to answer the question in water management – “What about the people?”


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