World Toilet Day

by Kate C
Publish date
19 November 2010
Comments (1)

World Toilet Day, held on 19 November each year, serves to point out that nearly half the world's population doesn't have access to proper sanitation. It's not the world's most glamorous issue, but it is an important one - globally, more people die from disease caused by poor sanitation than from any other cause.

There are several toilets of note in Museum Victoria collections. We're not shy about poo at MV, since the Spotwood Pumping Station at Scienceworks was once responsible for moving all of Melbourne's sewage out of the city. One particular toilet at the Pumping Station was installed in 1939 for the exclusive use of Lucey Alford, the first female scientist to work there. Her job was to determine if corrosion in the concrete pipes was caused by bacteria and her research was important to the proper functioning of the system.

Toilet Toilet - Fowler Ware, MMBW Spotswood Sewerage Pumping Station, circa 1939 (HT 2486)
Source: Museum Victoria

Before Spotswood Pumping Station and sewage treatment at Werribee were established in the 1890s, sewage disposal was a much dirtier job. The stink of cesspits and open sewers earned our city the moniker of 'Smellbourne' in the mid-1800s. Typhoid outbreaks killed hundreds of residents. With no internal plumbing, Melburnians used chamber pots or the 'dunny' at the back of the yard, which was emptied by nightsoil collectors. (You can still see many of these old dunnies from the laneways that run behind older houses in the inner city.) 'Nightsoil' - the coy term for human waste - was dumped in pits or depots in the outskirts of the young city, including the area that would become Carlton Gardens.

chamber pot fragment A fragment of a simple whiteware chamber pot from the Little Lon archaeological assemblage. (LL 068610)
Source: Museum Victoria

'Dunny' Toilet & Chicken Coop, Backyard, Glenroy, 1960 'Dunny' toilet and chicken coop in a suburban backyard, Glenroy, 1960 (MM 110571)
Image: John Cuff
Source: Museum Victoria

So today as you 'spend a penny', as my grandmother would say, spare a thought for those who don't have the convenience and hygiene of clean, safe, indoor toilets.


World Toilet Day

Melbourne Water education resource - Lucey Alford

MV News: Royal Exhibition Building archaeology

Kingston Historical Website - Night Soil

Comments (1)

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John R 2 December, 2010 12:20
YAY for toilets. I saw how importart good toilets are wheni went to PNG. Especially at schools and especially for girls at schools.
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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.