When Nature Calls Sydney Responds

Sydney in the late 19th century had cause for social concern. Respectability, health and hygiene were at an all time low, men had turned to urinating in the streets but you can hardly blame them there were no public toilets. You had to hold your piss and shit like gentlemen and ladies in public, you waited until you were at home for the most private of private activities.

Men were the first considered when public facilities were constructed. In the 1880s flimsy urinals or ‘pissoirs’ were erected in busy spots. May 24th, 1901 The first public toilet, an underground facility was opened in Moore Street. Facilities were built in Darlinghurst Road and at the intersection of Liverpool Street and Oxford Street in 1901. These too were all for men.

The first underground ladies’ lavatory was opened in Parker Street. A sum of £850 was allotted for ladies’ conveniences but difficulties were encountered in obtaining a site that was not so glaringly in the public eye for so private a pursuit. One was installed in the Queen Victoria Market Buildings. 1904, one was constructed in Wharf Street and one in George Street South. 1905 in Druitt Street and on the corner or Bourke and Forbes Streets underground lavatories were built. The council was slow to construct lavatories for women.

1907 there were requests for the mayor to provide adequate facilities for men and women at Circular Quay, but they appear to have fallen on deaf ears. 1908 men’s lavatories at Macquarie Place and renovations on existing ones located in George Street and Barton Street, dating from 1892. 1909 more renovations on men’s lavatories in Hyde Park and construction in Martin Place.

1910 the first aboveground ladies’ lavatory to be constructed in Hyde Park, corner of Park and Elizabeth Streets. The facilities of this public toilet included a place for parcels and children but the water closets were sparse, there were only two. I imagine the line would have indeed been lengthy. Men’s public toilets were more adequate, having between four to six water closets and seven urinals.

By 1955 the Hyde Park ladies’ aboveground lavatory was considered a ‘failure’ and replaced by the Hyde Park Family Centre which would continue to provide facilities for women and children for 45 years. In 2000, the Hyde Park Family Centre was demolished and grassed over.

Out of sight, out of mind. The desire to build public toilets underground, was to remove the private from the public, to keep the street sanitary. 1996 underground lavatories were decommissioned, too expensive to build, to maintain and public safety concerns. 1999 self-cleaning toilets were installed in public places.

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