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Blog Action Day Post: Water. aka Lawns are Stupid and Here’s Why.

This years Blog Action Day post was initially a little bit of a challenge. I live in urban Australia, where clean drinking water is plentiful and wasted. I am tremendously lucky. So lucky that I, and those around me, take it for granted every single day. I used to work for the government in Essential Service Delivery projects, and had a fair bit of exposure to the reality of water scarcity. Despite its relative abundance in Perth, there are still remote Aboriginal communities who have unreliable sources of drinking water. Worldwide, it is even worse.

in 2010, due to increasing water scarcity, we now have water restrictions and sprinkler bans in the wet months. This is an excellent thing, but surprisingly, people still seem to not quite get it.

I remember when we moved into a house where the landlords lived next door. They were older, in their 70s, and he LOVED HIS LAWN. He loved his garden. He loved his vege garden and he obviously got immense pleasure from it, because he was obsessed. I remember him knocking on the door, demanding that we break the sprinkler ban to water the lawn. The lawn looked fine, it was watered on its 2 days a week and mowed. This started a conflict which eventually led to us leaving the house (because he was more obsessed with the lawn than he was about the walls not collapsing from desrepair!). We lived in a lot of houses over the years, were good tenants, but I was always curious about this fixation with the perfectly manicured lawn.

The lawn has long been the ultimate symbol of suburban, nuclear family “success” in Australian culture. We invented the lawnmower. There are several aisles at Bunnings dedicated to the growing, patching and maintaining of a few square metres of grass. And if that grass grows a few inches out of where we want it to, there’s another aisle so that you can BLAM! with a shovel and poison and edging.

And yet, pesticides, herbicides, lawnmower fuels… not to mention the ridiculous waste of water resources (and the side point of wasting one’s life in pursuit of pointless suburban “perfection”…) just keeping it all alive… doesn’t seem to bother them. they’ll even fight against the water restrictions so they can maintain their lawn.

But, the reality is, we live in Perth. In Western Australia. In one of the driest states in one of the hottest countries in the world. We should not be trying to maintain lawns. We should not be trying to maintain cottage gardens. We should try to readjust our thinking about these things as symbols of a “good” neighbour and a “bad” one. We should actually be looking at lawn obsession with the same passion as we do smokers. Because people who are obsessed with lawns are also using our scarce resources (whether it is off a bore or not is irrelevant) in the name of vanity. In new housing estates, we should not be putting in lawns or grass as standard. We should be encouraging natives, or rock gardens, or ecologically friendly plants. We should not be clearing land and inserting artificial lakes into a suburb to save a few bucks. This should be seen not as the “done”, “normal” thing, but the irresponsible and greedy thing.

Sustainable living is about far more than just light globes and recycling. And none of us are perfect. I am definitely not. We all do things that are wasteful or indulgent and I acknowledge that just because *I* don’t value “the lawn” doesn’t mean it’s not important to others. But at the same time, we need to get real about how we use our water. Times are different. The lawn should shift from a symbol of pride and status to one of indulgence and wastefulness. Because it is.

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