Using a postcolonial and world-ecological framework, this article analyses the representation of water as an energy source in Thea Astley’s last and most critically acclaimed novel Drylands
(1999). As environmental historians have argued, the colonial, and later capitalist, settlement of Australia, particularly the arid interior, was dependent on securing freshwater sources—a historical process that showed little regard for ecological impact or water justice until recent times. Drylands’
engagement with this history will be considered in relation to Michael Cathcart’s concept of ‘water dreaming’ (2010): the way in which water became reimagined after colonization to signify the prospect of economic growth and the consolidation of settler belonging. Drylands
self-consciously incorporates predominant modes of ‘water dreaming’ into its narrative, yet resists reducing water to a passive resource. This happens on the level of both content and form: while its theme of drought-induced migration is critical of the past, present, and future social and ecological effects of the reckless extraction of freshwater, its nonlinear plot and hybrid form as a montage of short stories work to undermine the dominant anthropocentric colonial narratives that underline technocratic water cultivation.
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