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Dams And Disputes: Water Institutions In Colonial New South Wales, Australia, 1850-1870


  • Edwyna Harris


This paper will analyse the operation of the British common law of riparian rights in the Riverina District of New South Wales (NSW), Australia between 1850 and 1870.* Theorists argue that the predisposition of people to fight over or cooperate to exploit valuable resources depends on how well property rights are defined and enforced.†The operation of the riparian doctrine in the Riverina provides an empirical, historical example of why inefficient property rights promote violence. Violence in this instance was based on collective action directed at the destruction of water supply infrastructure, specifically dams, constructed on various rivers within the Riverina. This paper considers why collective action in violence did not spill over into infrastructure construction. It is argued that the failure of collective action was due to its high costs stemming from several factors: failure to meet optimal group size; problems of free riders; hold-up concerns; and the introduction of a much disputed land policy in 1861 referred to as selection.

Suggested Citation

  • Edwyna Harris, 2007. "Dams And Disputes: Water Institutions In Colonial New South Wales, Australia, 1850-1870," Monash Economics Working Papers 08-07, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:mos:moswps:2007-08

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Libecap, Gary D & Smith, James L, 2002. "The Economic Evolution of Petroleum Property Rights in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages 589-608, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Edwyna Harris, 2006. "Lobbying For Legislation: An Examination Of Water Rights Transition In Colonial Victoria, Australia 1840-1886," Monash Economics Working Papers 12/06, Monash University, Department of Economics.

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    JEL classification:

    • D92 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Intertemporal Firm Choice, Investment, Capacity, and Financing
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General

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