• Institutional learning;
  • Government;
  • Water rights;
  • Colonial settlement;
  • Economic growth

This paper provides a preliminary exploration of the role of adaptive efficiency and institutional learning as the basis for long-run economic growth in Australia by means of an analysis of the institutional changes in water rights between 1850 and 1886 in the colony of Victoria. It is argued that the effects of adaptive efficiency and institutional learning led to the replacement of growth-hindering institutional arrangements in water supply in favour of growth-enhancing frameworks that provided the basis for better economic performance over the long-run. The analysis presents evidence that suggests that in addition to the colonial experience, adaptive efficiency embedded in the inheritance of British culture rather than institutions has played an important role in Australia's economic performance.