In my line of work, the greatest accomplishment is to create a landscape that looks part of one of the oldest landscapes in the world. “It looks like it has been there forever” is the best compliment that I have received as a pond builder in Australia. To make tangible what is seen in the mind’s eye, and to be able to recreate the organized chaos of nature so that it feels intuitively right in any landscape, is a satisfying achievement.
Waterscapes Australia was founded in 2008 with the mission of introducing Australia to a new culture of water garden design and construction.
At that time, the typical Australian experience of a natural pond was a small, lined excavation with rocks around the top and lots of water quality issues. Visible plumbing and the typical filtration systems similar to pool equipment were the norm. An advanced water garden of more than a few feet in diameter was almost unheard of and considered difficult to own or maintain except by dedicated hobbyists.
With this in mind, we offer professional installation and training and introduce new pond equipment and construction techniques to contractors and DIY installers. We believe in sharing our experiences and knowledge so as to create a better industry here. We appreciate what we have and learn from each other constantly.
Challenges and Equipment
The major initial challenge for our company was the unavailability of the new wave of equipment that was transforming the North American water feature industry. The focus here at that time was on contemporary and bubbling pot-type features.
There were some very talented water feature designers around the country, although construction was restricted to mostly concrete or fiberglass—and had the inherent problems and aesthetic issues common with these mediums.
We needed access to this new wave of equipment and so imported our first container of Aquascape product in early 2009. This introduced the Australian consumer for the first time to Black Waterfall Construction foam and professional Pond Skimmers and Biofalls Filters.
The Waterfall foam was a turning point in establishing a growing industry in Australia, as we focused on educating clients and other contractors with new construction techniques adhering to the philosophy, “Build it and they will come.”
With so many facets to the business growth, it has been a huge learning curve for us with many hats to wear. The creative side of pond building and the desire to constantly improve our art are our driving force, and we develop systems to support this. We have introduced a previously unheard of product range
Growth and More Growth!
After six years we now have hundreds of water gardens in the ground, from small pondless streams and ponds to large recreation ponds.
A fast-growing part of our business is the recreation pond, or “billabong,” as we call them. We now have many examples installed in every climatic zone of Australia, from the northern wet tropics to the seasonally cold and dry southern states. Although each project has its specific challenges, the basic construction principles are similar to an entry-level garden pond. Bigger scale, more rock, deep-water circulation, skimmers or negative edge pits are all common—and we oversize the up-flow wetlands to cope with the extreme weather and long seasons here.
Ecologically, there have been some major disasters resulting from introduced species decimating native water and land ecologies in Australia. Four types of carp were introduced, with the Japanese koi and European forms now being a major problem in Australian river systems. As a result, regulation is strong and only two states permit koi fish for hobbyists.
This could be seen as a limit to the industry, although we have found that the strong awareness in supporting our native habitats has attracted people to building healthy water ecologies and water gardens that both provide for wildlife and for the personal enjoyment and lifestyle that come with owning a well-built feature.
Permaculture and Sustainability
Our design background is in Permaculture and sustainable living, and so we encourage edible aquatic plantings—especially in the wetland filtration zones of the billabongs. And our clients love this unexpected facet of their water features. I think one of my greatest pleasures is visiting a client and, after the obligatory swim in the billabong, picking our salad greens from the wetland or bog garden filter.
Additional elements and functions include rainwater collection from roof or water tank overflow and feature placement in the landscape to shield property from bush fires. Indeed, some larger installations are actually used as backup water supplies for bush fire control.
With so little of it around, Australians need to have water nearby. It supports our mental health. Building in the driest inhabited continent in the world has its challenges; people want water nearby and in the purest form possible, although we must be extremely conscious of water usage. We tend not to build tall or high-flow waterfalls due to high evaporative losses. It is a major concern for clients here. Sure, we have some very high rainfall pockets around the country … but these zones account for less than 5 percent of the continent.
Australia has the land mass of the USA minus Alaska, but only 10 percent of the population! Think of it this way: the population of Illinois spread around the coastal strip of the entire USA. There are vast distances to cover between projects with a small population base.
Before we even get to project-specific challenges, there are Australia-specific challenges that we have had to overcome.
We regularly travel thousands of miles to install or quote a project and have become very efficient at orchestrating the logistics so as to have everything onsite as we need it. Crew, tools and equipment are regularly delivered or flown around the country. We have a detailed database of materials and heavy equipment providers for all regions of Australia. Often we must collect our own rock in areas where it is just far too costly to transport it in. Being resourceful and adaptive are key skills.
We are approached by clients from all over the country. Recently we combined the construction of two billabong projects in the state of Victoria, over 1,300 miles from our base and 100 miles apart.
Combining projects allows us to spread the consultancy and logistical cost between installations. Our clients appreciate our approach and honesty in this. We spend the time communicating beforehand with photographs through SMS and email before we arrange the onsite consultation and do the final planning in the physical space.
Often clients will contact several designers and find that Waterscapes Australia could conceptualize for them what they wanted in terms of aesthetics and ecological soundness. How do we know this? They tell us! We establish a connection with the client and make sure that we understand what they really want and work with them to realize it. Fellow pond builders will understand that often the client does not know exactly what he wants (or even what is possible to build), so an important skill is being able to describe our offerings in a form that clients can visualize. We know how to build water features well; that’s our job, and the client is interested in knowing what the design will look and feel like…how it will improve their living space, health and lifestyle.
We start by asking what words come to mind when they think of their feature—what they feel and elements they want in the design. We spend time with them in their spaces and often stay with or near them during the construction phase. In this way, each design reflects the personality of the client. I hadn’t really noticed this until a client who had visited other pond projects of ours pointed it out. Each project is tuned to the particular client’s personality and style in the layout, the rock type and placement and its intended use. It blew them away.
Getting the Word Out
Web presence and social media have also been key to clients discovering us. The power of the second and third separation referral from someone “Liking” our page has been a fundamental factor in our growth throughout Australia.
Our philosophy and approach to making water features that reflect what each client needs—reflecting their personality and their individuality—have helped us create a name for ourselves and given us real satisfaction in what we do. Revisiting a project and seeing how it has matured into its surroundings, and hearing stories from the clients on how it has improved their lives, is immensely satisfying.
You have to love what you do to do it well, and this passion shines through. With each experience you realize that anything is possible; that we can create what we wish in this world. To do this in a positive way that brings so much enjoyment and support to the people and environment is truly a worthy endeavor.