When Premier John Brumby travelled deep into the suburbs on Tuesday to relax Melbourne's water restrictions, the surprise was not in the announcement but in the bold statement that followed. ''There are no circumstances in which we would ever, ever have to go back to stage 3a or stage 4,'' he said, as children kicked footballs behind him.
Vowing to return Victoria to its ''garden state'' glory, Brumby promised that Melbourne's parks and gardens would never again suffer the thirst and neglect they have endured over the past three years.
The shift from stage 3a to stage 3 is the first step in a gradual retreat from water restrictions, and there is a strong chance more relief will come before November's state election. In addition, desalination and other controversial government water projects such as the north-south pipeline – built to boost the city's dwindling supplies by importing water from the depleted Goulburn River – will soon allow Melbourne to live in defiance of its drying climate.
But as the city starts to recapture its traditional green hue, some observers are concerned that the sight of happy lawns and healthy trees might make it easier for residents to turn their attention away from the bigger environmental issues still facing not just city dwellers but the state's dry inland. The reality is that it wasn't until the backyard turned brown that many Australians started taking notice of climate change.
Ross Young from the Australian Water Services Association believes that by ruining sports grounds, parching suburbs and forcing people to live under the harshest water restrictions they had ever experienced, water scarcity has given Australians an unusually intimate perspective on climate change.
''I genuinely believe that climate change has had a higher profile in Australian society because people were genuinely scared that we were going to run out of water,'' he told The Age this week.