Antecedent soil moisture significantly influenced the hydraulic conductivity of the A1, A2e and B21 horizons in a series of strong texture-contrast soils. Tension infiltration at six supply potentials demonstrated that in the A1 horizon, hydraulic conductivity was significantly lower in the ‘wet’ treatment than in the ‘dry’ treatment. However in the A2e horizon, micropore and mesopore hydraulic conductivity was lower in the ‘dry’ treatment than the ‘wet’ treatment, which was attributed to the precipitation of soluble amorphous silica. In the B21 horizon, desiccation of vertic clays resulted in the formation of shrinkage cracks which significantly increased near-saturated hydraulic conductivity and prevented the development of subsurface lateral flow in the ‘dry’ treatment. In the ‘wet’ treatment, the difference between the hydraulic conductivity of the A1 and B21 horizons was reduced; however, lateral flow still occurred in the A1 horizon due to difficulty displacing existing soil water further down the soil profile. Results demonstrate the need to account for temporal variation in soil porosity and hydraulic conductivity in soil-water model conceptualisation and parameterisation. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.