Australia is a suburban society. It has been since Europeans came. Unlike many other urban societies at the time, there was no existing hard infrastructure to provide the essential needs of human urban life - clean water, food, shelter and waste management. These had to be met by individual residents in the emerging cities and towns until infrastructure could be provided to local communities by Government. This reality led to Governor Phillip establishing the block size in Sydney as being large enough to provide food and treat waste within its boundaries. The block dimensions were a major influence on Australia’s urban form for the next two centuries and with social developments not only led to low density urban form, but also fostered a strong connection with the backyard and a societal love of gardening at home.
Despite a push to densification in the past two decades, low density suburban form is physical and cultural and is likely to be dominant for the foreseeable future. Gardening at home is also likely to continue to be a favourite pass time. While some Australian research has started to explore the role of backyards and gardening in increasing urban sustainability, little work has been done on to what extent the suburban block has and can meet the core needs of people. Even less has been done on determining the impact of suburbs on underlying ecosystem services that provide these core needs.
This paper provides a brief history of backyards in suburban Australia, a conceptual framework for assessing the sustainability of Australian suburbs over time and a description of the major ecosystem types in what is now urban Geelong at the time of European settlement. It provides the foundation for future sustainability assessments of the residential block in various periods of suburban development in Geelong.