Securing supply: Governing drinking water in the Northern Territory

Liam Grealy, Kirsty Howey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article considers the spatial and material implications of drinking water regulation in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia. Responding to water contamination and scarcity events in remote NT communities, we argue that the politico-bureaucratic edifice of uniform drinking water governance and service provision across the NT is a state-curated fiction. The article outlines the available legislative protections for drinking water supply in the NT, which include minimum quality standards, water allocation mechanisms, testing regimes, and so on. These are shown to vary significantly between geographic locations and we argue that this produces a racialised ‘archipelago’ of differentiated islands of drinking water governance (Bakker 2003. “Archipelagos and Networks: Urbanization and Water Privatization in the South.” The Geographical Journal 169 (4): 328–341). Using the Gulf country town of Borroloola as a case study, the article then examines the colonial and land rights bases of this spatial variegation, and its significance for drinking water infrastructure provision and remediation. In doing so, we consider how the entropic materialities of ageing infrastructures work to further confound effective drinking water regulations and their practical enactments. The article argues that it is crucial to understand the limits of drinking water regulation in the NT, in order to elucidate the racialised distribution of potential environmental harms, and to mitigate further toxic inheritances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-360
Number of pages20
JournalAustralian Geographer
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


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