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Step back in time - an old toilet

World Toilet Day – how the humble toilet changed Smellbourne

It’s often taken for granted, been called names from dunny to thunderbox but without the humble loo we’d all be in the poo. November 19 was World Toilet Day and for Melbourne Water  whose business is keeping our city’s modern and efficient sewage treatment running smoothly – it’s a chance to call out and celebrate this amazing invention. 

Melbourne Water Executive General Manager Service Delivery, Dr Nerina Di Lorenzo said back in 1851 the discovery of gold made Melbourne a very rich city – and with a swelling population of about half a million by the 1880s, it was facing a big pollution problem.

“While it had been described by British journalists as "a city of magnificent intentions", it was also being dubbed Marvellous 'Smellbourne’ because of the city’s unsanitary waste disposal methods,” Dr Di Lorenzo said.

Those methods included households directly emptying waste into the open drains that flowed into street channels and on to local rivers and creeks. Meantime thunderboxes were only emptied about once a week so were very smelly.

Concerned about disease, authorities at the time carried out a Royal Commission in 1888 to come up with a solution – that answer was the construction of a sewerage system – a system of pipes, sewers and drains built underground to carry sewage from homes and factories to a sewage treatment farm.

In 1891 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (now Melbourne Water) was formed to take responsibility for both water supply and the treatment of sewage.​ We’ve been doing it ever since. A treatment farm was built at Werribee and a pumping station was built at Spotswood (now the site of the Scienceworks Museum) to send the city's waste to Werribee. The first property to be connected to the sewerage system was the All England Eleven Hotel in Port Melbourne on August 16, 1897.

Dr Di Lorenzo said the Melbourne Water 'sewerage system' covers a network of more than 3,000 km of pipes and pumps that safely transfer sewage from homes and businesses to our treatment plants for processing.

“This includes 400 kilometres of sewers, three main trunk sewers and nine pumping stations. World Toilet Day is an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have achieved,” Dr Di Lorenzo said.

The theme of World Toilet Day 2019 is ‘Leaving no one behind.’  A clean and safe toilet ensures health, dignity and well-being — yet 40% of the world’s population does not have access to toilets. World Toilet Day is a sobering reminder of those elsewhere across the globe, where cesspits and thunderboxes are still commonplace.

Media : Catherine Garrett 0429 219 084