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Looking back on Ozwater’24

Water professionals from across Australia and the world gathered in Melbourne last week for Ozwater’24 – an opportunity to share, connect and inspire accelerated action on efforts to create a sustainable water future.

The Ozwater’24 theme – Accelerating Action – was reflected within the incredible program of workshops, panel sessions, presentations and paper pitches delivered to delegates across three full days.

Although Ozwater’24 is now over, key insights, learnings and messages are still fresh on the minds of attendees. Take a look below at some of the thought leadership and key highlights from this year’s edition of the Australian Water Association’s annual water conference.

Exciting ideas

On day one of Ozwater’24 delegates were treated to keynote presentations from the 2023 winner of Alone Australia Gina Chick and DeadlyScience Founder Corey Tutt.

The second woman and oldest contestant in the history of the Alone worldwide to win, Chick shared with Ozwater’24 delegates the secret to her success.

“The interesting thing isn’t winning, it is how I won. Survival is often shown as ‘man versus wild’. There is this sense of needing to dominate nature, micromanage nature, or to solve nature. But nature is not a problem to be solved and I didn’t do any of that,” she said.

“I jumped around barefoot. I had a great time and made friends with a platypus. I caught dozens of fish. I thrived out there. I was at home in the wild.

“The ‘man versus wild’ paradigm, it just doesn't work anymore. If we are going to make decisions about the incredible processes of life, including streams and rivers and rain and water, first we need to see them.

“We need to see them as they are – as processes rather than things. We need to see their relationships. When we do that, and we become part of the conversation, we have the ability to have nature teach us the solutions we need to survive.”

More keynote highlights occurred on day three of Ozwater’24, with delegates hearing from Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek, para-surfing champion and bestselling author Sam Bloom, and internationally recognised water resource management expert Kalanithy Vairavamoorthy.

Plibersek commended water professionals around Australia for their commitment to continually do better for the communities that they serve.

“You are all at the coalface of making these decisions. You manage the water services that Australians rely on and you play a key role in securing our water future,” she said.

“You've got the ideas and the expertise that can better equip us to manage the impacts of climate change and the increased occurrence of extreme weather events.”

Meanwhile, Sam Bloom shared her heart-breaking and inspirational story of injury, recovery and resilience. After falling from a balcony while on a family trip to Thailand, Bloom’s life – which until then had been filled with freedom, joy and adventure – was turned upside down when she was told she would never walk again.

“In those days, the constant pain and hopelessness was overwhelming,” she said.

“While I love the benefits and excitement of league competition, the truth is that winning races and medals was never my new goal. I just wanted to get back out in the water. I just wanted to feel like my old self again before my accident.

“When faced with adversity, sitting around, feeling sorry for ourselves will not make us feel better. It will not make us stronger. It will not will not help us win our personal battle with the darkness. I learned to find new things to love and new ways to live.”

Australian Water Awards

Ozwater’24 wouldn’t be the same without the announcement of the Australian Water Awards, with this year’s winners showcasing an incredible array of excellence, innovation and leadership.

Sponsored by ANZ, the Australian Water Awards recognised winners in 11 categories, culminating with the announcement of University of Canberra Galambany Professorial Fellow and proud Gomeroi man Professor Leslie (Phil) Duncan as the recipient of the 2024 Water Professional of the Year Award, sponsored by KSB.

Duncan took the opportunity to thank the Association and all water professionals for working together with First Nations people to create water security for all.

“This award is not just about me, it's about you and what we get to do together. I hope this inspires not just our Young Water Professionals, I hope it inspires our young Indigenous people, too,” he said.

“I grew up with a tin roof and a dirt floor. My first classroom was Terry Hie Hie state forest, running with my grandfather and my father along Tycannah Creek, and my river, the Gwydir.

“This award is recognition of this knowledge that has sustained us as the people of this Country since time immemorial, not just 60,000 years. And it is crucial that we continue to look at how we can integrate cultural values and methodologies into our future thoughts and strategies for water security.”

Aurecon Lead Process Engineer Dr Samuel Skinner claimed the 2024 Young Water Professional of the Year Award, sponsored by Xylem.

The Australian Water Association congratulates all winners and finalists for their outstanding contribution to the water sector.

Workshops, panels and presentations

As usual, Ozwater’24 showcased a broad spectrum of topics and themes for delegates to engage with, including workshops, forums, panel discussion and presentations across 12 water themes.

On day one of Ozwater’24, delegates attending the Making Bold Change stream heard from Central Coast Council and AECOM about the implementation of a step-change process to enable Council to work through significant asset management challenges.

Another workshop saw Ozwater’24 delegates brainstorming social license within the water sector – what it is, how to adopt it and why it matters.

A specialist panel on day two of Ozwater’24 presented key insights from leading experts around the new challenges posed by AI and how they might be mitigated. Hosted by SpiralData CEO and Founder Kale Neeham, the panel dissected the multifaceted implications of AI in water utilities and established a road map for its responsible integration.

And presenting at Ozwater’24 within the Integrated Water Management stream, Arup Australasia Integrated Water Management Lead Celeste Morgan considered Melbourne’s IWM journey over the past seven years.

Interested in taking a look at all the action? The Ozwater’24 photo galleries are now available to peruse.