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Water, cool clear water

  • 08 June 2023
I was recently struck by a news report that asked whether it was safe to drink from public drinking fountains. The item reminded me how far we have travelled since my childhood attitude to water. Back then, we boasted that Victorian drinking water was the purest in the world. We admired the public spirit of governments that had invested in the beautiful tree-protected Silvan and Maroondah reservoirs and their networks of catchment areas, aqueducts and siphons.  Even after childhood I assumed that all creeks and streams would be safe to swim in, and that mountain water would be fit to drink. I realised my error when cycling up to the snow at Mt Donna Buang on a sunny afternoon.  I drank water from the gutter, and was embarrassed to have to leave the bike repeatedly on the long evening ride back to Melbourne.

Faith in the safety and superiority of tap water, however, persisted. I was amused and outraged when water in plastic bottles first began to be spruiked. Amused that anyone could be conned into buying the stuff. Where, after all, did it come from if not from the same source as public tap water? I was outraged that it should be labelled ‘natural’ when it came in plastic bottles, and also at this further instance of exploiting public resources for private gain. At least we have resisted the horrors of the privatisation of water in the United Kingdom. That has turned water courses into sewers for the public and into rivers of gold for the investors.  

Now I keep my faith in our public water system, compromise it by filling empty plastic water bottles with tap water to store on my bicycle, and celebrate it by drinking from the taps at public parks. Is this the foolishness of age that insists on taking risks in an economically serious new world?  Or does it express a healthy trust in the rain that falls on the just and the unjust alike and should be made freely available to them? 




Andrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.