Vent Spotting

A Tour

The date: Sunday 6th October
The time: 2:00 – 5:00 pm
The event: Vent Spotting Field Tour
The place: The intersection of Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets, Hyde Park, Sydney

The Field Tour began on Gadigal land, at the site of the intersection of Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets, Hyde Park. The site is the location of the Hyde Park Obelisk, Sydney’s first civic monument erected in 1857 to honour the Mayor of the time, George Thornton, and is the first vent stack chimney of Sydney’s first sewer system. The Obelisk, nicknamed Thornton’s scent bottle is property of Sydney Water and served as sewerage duct vent, allowing noxious gases to escape from the sewer (now days it severs the storm water system). It is the only sewer vent constructed of sandstone. Initially, after the Obelisk, vent shafts were constructed using bricks, ornate and fairly major features in the city landscape. This technology was replaced with smaller, steel tube vents, which were used at intervals of approximately every 350 metres of sewer.

The Field Tour turned down Elizabeth Street, heading away from the Obelisk, towards Park Street.  As we walked along Park Street towards William Street we pasted the first above ground Ladies lavatories constructed in 1910 on the corner of Elizabeth and Park Streets. In 1955, the Ladies lavatories considered a failure was replaced by the Hyde Park Family Centre but it too was considered a failure and it was deconstructed in 2000 replaced with humble grass.

On the intersection of William and Bourke Streets was the second sewer vent of the tour. This vent was not so grand and it was head to foot green, it was located behind a building in a fenced off, almost empty concrete space. The top of this vent was rotating continuously, unlike the more common wire ball design of the vent shaft opening cover. We then crossed from the right side of William Street, to the left and turned right onto the other side of Bourke Street where our route continued. This half of Bourke Street we spotted approximately five to six small sewer vents. We then took a slight detour, turning into Burton Street and onto Sherbrooke Street (a dead end) to see a vent before retracing our steps back onto Bourke Street and continuing on.

Bourke Street turns into Forbes Street but right at the transference where the Streets intersect with Foley Street there is a Square known as Taylor Square. In the center of Taylor Square sits Substaion 6, part underground men’s conveniences constructed in 1904 and part electric substation constructed in 1907. In 1938 After much debate (and petitioning) Council modified the southern end of the existing Substation to accommodate “suitable” women’s conveniences. This was not the first public toilets for women in Sydney (located in Hyde Park) but this was the first in Taylor Square, 55 years after the first male public urinals in Taylor Square.

The opposite end of Taylor Square is bordered by Oxford Street, the Field tour continued down Oxford Street, in the direction of Liverpool Street, heading back towards Hyde Park. A vent was spotted on the right side of Crown Street, we detoured to get a closer look before retracing our steps back onto Oxford Street, the next leg of the Field Tour was down the opposite side of Crown Street. We spotted one vent on the intersection of Crown and Burton Streets, turning left onto Burton St and after walking five metres or so we spotted one more.

The final leg of the Field Tour culminated with walking from Burton Street to Oxford Street onto Liverpool Street and crossing to the corner of Hyde Park from which, when looking into Wentworth Avenue the final vent of the Field Tour was spotted.

Scrubbing, Washing, Rinsing

The Making of Soap

The first soap was duck fat with lye and I don’t remember if duck fat smell particularly bad or at all but what I do remember is that it took a long time to start reacting with the lye (over an hour)! While melting it was a pale off white and when reacting it changed to white and the texture was silky smooth.

Second soap, this time a combination of lard or pig fat and lye, I did a quick internet search when deciding on the ingredients for making soaps and lard was reputed to have a pleasant bacon scent when melting. Ha! Not only did it not smell pleasant, it was vile! The lard smelt like burnt, off meat scraps and that smell remained the same the entire time that the soap was being made. While melting it was a pale, creamy yellow and when reacting it was had changed to white. Again the texture was silky and the reaction was slow but it worked.

Third soap a mixture of different oils; palm oil, cotton seed oil, flaxseed oil, wheat germ oil and lye. This soap was the only pleasant scent, faint and sweet, like a distant pine forest scent. While melting it was a rich orange-gold colour, whilst reacting it gradually changed to an almost caramel cream colour. The texture was again silky but while reacting it got bubbly, I think because I was stirring too fast? This was one of two soaps that had to be made twice, the first time it wasn’t mixed long enough for the reaction to be finished. Once in the mould the oils hand sank to the bottom and the lye to the surface, it had separated!

The fourth soap, tallow or cow fat and lye, was the second soap that had to be made twice for the same reason (it wasn’t mixed long enough for the reaction to be finished). The first time it was made the react was taking a long time but the second time the reaction was quick (almost didn’t get it in the mould in time!), the annoying thing is, I couldn’t remember what I’d done differently that improved the results! While melting the tallow was a pale off white, once reacting with the lye it changed to a paper white. The texture was creamy. This soap had two scents to it, one while the fat was melting a foul, burnt meat smell (like the lard) and another while the lye was reacting with the fat, off milk (gross)! Needless to say milk was off my menu.

The fifth and final soap, was made from old farmed emu oil we had lying around the house (hard to say exactly how old, but a few decades at the very least) and lye. Much like the duck fat, emu fat didn’t have much of an unpleasant or of any scent. When melted it was crystal clear and when mixing with the lye, the liquid mixture turned off-white and had a grainy texture to it. Once in the mould, like the oil mixture and the tallow, it looked as though the lye had once more risen to the top but it was only an illusion of the grainy texture of the soap.

I’ve found through trial and error that the best first step in soap making, once you’ve decided on your fat or oil or mixture and weighted the amount(s), you want is to melt it until it is clear. Second step is to measure out the amount of lye or your choice of caustic and mix it with the right amount of water (more water is ok, more caustic not so much (try to remember this, it’s kind of important to not confuse those two)….

Bubble, Bubble Toil and Trouble; Soaps Foam, and Waters Stir.

Soapy Recipes

100g lard
13.8g lye
50g water

1. melt the lard
2. whilst stirring the water pour in the lye
3. once the lard is clear, whilst stirring pour the combined lye and water into the lard
4. continue to stir until thickened and leaves a trace on the spoon/stirrer, it is now time to pour into the mould

100g tallow
14g lye
50g water

1. melt the tallow
2. whilst stirring the water pour in the lye
3. once the tallow is clear, whilst stirring pour the combined lye and water into the tallow
4. continue to stir until thickened and leaves a trace on the spoon/stirrer, it is now time to pour into the mould

100g emu fat
13.8g lye
50g water

1. melt the emu fat
2. whilst stirring the water pour in the lye
3. once the emu fat is clear, whilst stirring pour the combined lye and water into the emu fat
4. continue to stir until thickened and leaves a trace on the spoon/stirrer, it is now time to pour into the mould

100g duck fat
13.5g lye
50g water

1. melt the duck fat
2. whilst stirring the water pour in the lye
3. once the duck fat is clear, whilst stirring pour the combined lye and water into the duck fat
4. continue to stir until thickened and leaves a trace on the spoon/stirrer, it is now time to pour into the mould

3.525g palm oil
3.425g cotton seed oil
3.4g flaxseed oil
3.25g wheat germ oil
13.6g lye
50g water

1. melt the oils (palm oil, cotton seed oil, flaxseed oil & wheat germ oil)
2. whilst stirring the water pour in the lye
3. once the oils are clear, whilst stirring pour the combined lye and water in with the oils
4. continue to stir until thickened and leaves a trace on the spoon/stirrer, it is now time to pour into the mould

wash scrub rinse

Vertical Effluent

How are things flowing in your apartment?

Thinking about sewage and the infrastructure that transports it once its flushed, or poured away down a drain got me thinking about the processes involved in managing the multiple and constant flows of raw sewage that travel from homes that are varying in size and style with any number of drains and for that matter toilets, and can be a one story house with one toilet or a high rise apartment building with numerous homes and their various toilets enclosed within.

I did some searching and came across a few PDFs:

  • Part 4 Designing the building
  • Planning Guidelines for Water Supply and Sewerage
  • Building & Plumbing handbook

ANALYSIS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN 8 UNIT APARTMENT BUILDING by Byron Antine, Jr. was written in 2011, an American source, only mentions sewage twice in the entire ten chapter PDF. The first time in Site & Property Description a paragraph on the Impact Fees that the construction faces for sewer tap-in. Then once more in Development Issues, just to say that the local Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires the submission of a 537 Sewer Planning Module, documentation of where the sewage will flow to be treated and consequently release. Though no mention of how exactly the sewerage is setup in an eight unit apartment, but then it is more of a proposal for the building than a step by step how to guide.

Part 4 Designing the building, a twenty two chapter PDF broken into three sections. The first Amenity focuses on the interior, on maximising natural light, ventilation and the optimal spacial design of an apartment, and reducing the noise pollution. The second Configuration focuses on the exterior design. The third Performance is on the management of the energy, water, waste and maintenance of the building. The chapter waste does not actually talk about sewage (only rubbish) in fact in the whole PDF is sewage free! When talking about the designing of rooms for maximum space, the bathrooms are not mentioned….

Planning Guidelines for Water Supply and Sewerage, an eleven chapter PDF, loaded with jargon! Essentially it is a step by step planning guide, loaded with flow charts and tables that list of all the risk factors involved and what you need to consider when planning water supply and sewerage. Again no mention of how it is done.

Building & Plumbing handbook a fifteen chapter PDF. Talks about connection points and flow control with illustrations but only of a one story house. It does not elaborate into the workings of how an apartment is connected and flows from multiple vertical drains are controlled. Only that is is the developers and builders are responsible for establishing the location of sewer connection points prior to starting any works, to ensure that the building (house or apartment) is located in the correct position!

I wasn’t able to find the exact process, but I will continue to search and update this when I am successful.


Tour To The Great Big Fart Towers of Sydney

The date: Sunday 6th October
The time: 2:00 – 5:00 pm
The event: Vent Spotting Field Tour
The place: The intersection of Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets, Hyde Park, Sydney

This Field Tour is a collaborative workshop in exploring the sewerage infrastructure at large within the city (or more accurately under it). A tour to key spots of Sydney’s sewer system, we meet at the Hyde Park Obelisk Sewer Vent (Elizabeth and Bathurst Streets) and walk via William Street to Taylor Square on Oxford Street.

I would like to invite you to take part in creating a space in which walking allows us to create connections to place through sensory inquiry, conversation, telling stories and the spotting of vents; a space where walking can be productive of more than physical exercise. There is no wrong way to contribute, you can tell a story, share your sewage facts, spot vents or simply be there and every contribution is appreciated.

As a token of appreciation for your generosity in helping to make this happen, I will be giving each participant a zine to commemorate the event.

Salad Dressing Recipe

serves anywhere from a town to a country


  • one acre or more of land
  • planting machinery
  • planting tools
  • irrigation system
  • seeds to mature into vegetables
  • roundup weed killer
  • pesticide sprays
  • chemical fertilizers
  • salad bowl

Steps 1
divide the land into sections and sow the seeds

Step 2
water, prune and spray the plants with a healthy dosing of weed killer, pesticides and fertilizers as they grow

Step 3
once ripped picked the chemical soaked vegetables and without washing cut, cook and lay out the salad

Step 4
add extra dosing of pesticide, fertilizer and/or weed killer to taste, as required

The Rise of The WET WIPE

What is a wet wipe you ask? Why it’s the latest invention (c. 1957), convenient on the go washing in a wipe! Saves you time, no more soap and water bother to slow you down. The humble wet wipe comes in a variety of styles from facial tissues, make-up wipes, baby wipes to cleaning wipes and of course ‘flushable’ wet wipes. What could be more perfect, wet paper! Now you can effortlessly clean and tenderly caress your behind all at the same time! It’s so soft and moist you only need one piece, no more wasting paper and clogging up the drain from copious amounts of toilet paper. No more ass scraping to get that stubborn piece of nasty shit off your crack that just won’t budge. It’s much sturdier old toilet paper, no more crumbling in your hand when you pull it off the roll. What’s better the packaging says clearly that they are ‘flushable’. No need to strain yourself reaching for the far of bathroom bin, simply discreetly flush them away and all your problems are solved.

Or so you thought! Wet wipes are nothing like toilet paper, in fact they are not even paper but plastic textiles coated with either polyester or polypropylene resin and moistened with water and depending on the application other liquids; softeners, lotions, perfumes and isopropyl alcohol to adjust the tactile properties. To prevent bacterial and fungal growth wet wipes are loaded with preservatives such as methylisothiazolinone. Despite what the packaging indicates wet wipes are not flushable because unlike toilet paper they are not biodegradable, wet wipes do not actually break down. They break into smaller and smaller, microscopic plastic fibers to fill our fish and drinking water with plastic. As we speak wet wipes are clogging up your plumbing.

What makes something FLUSHABLE?
The dictionary defines FLUSHABLE – suitable for disposal by flushing down a toilet.

What makes something suitable for disposal by flushing down a toilet?
It is required to fit in a toilet?
What if it’s more convenient than going to the bin?
What if it says on the packaging that it’s flushable?

If it were simply required to fit in the toilet quite a lot of things would be considered flushable, we could almost do away with rubbish bins. That is if we were to ignore the size of pipes and environmental impact.

Flushing rubbish down the toilet may seem convenient at the time when you’re on the loo and you just so happen to be holding a piece of rubbish (as you do). However, it will come back to bite you on the ass! When your pipes are clogged and you really need to go but you only have one toilet and the plumber has just turned the water off. No to mention the plumbing fees $$ one Sydney resident had a plumbing bill of $16,000 to repair a problem caused by flushing wet wipes.

It goes without saying, wet wipes are not flushable and they are not the only unflushables that make up the soggy conglomeration that clogs pipes, that is known as the Fatberg.  F.O.G. or  fats, oils and grease that are poured down drains where they congeal are a major culprit, along with food scraps and rubbish, plastic toys, large goldfish, tampons, pads and their wrappers, condoms, nappies, cigarette butts, cotton buds, dental floss, hair and unwanted medication to name a few.

Words On Smell


What is it about a stink? If you call it by any other name would it still smell as vile?

With such a limited vocabulary to know what a smell is, its type and where to expect it; it is essential to have categories that go beyond the banal sweet or sour. But for all the various categories from kitchen smells to laundry scents, bathroom stench, bedroom aromas and the many city and country stinks they fit neatly within two: public smells and private smells!

As an individual you have a personal atmosphere made up of scents that permeate your clothing, hair, skin and breath. Your dwellings, the private space of your home have their own atmospheres that permeate the furniture, surfaces, walls and flooring. These scents mix with and add to your own personal smell. Public spaces too have their own atmosphere and when people gather there their personal atmospheres mingle and latch onto each other creating a collective atmosphere, a miasma that lingers in the air.

The supposed volume of necessary fresh air within a confined space per person per hour has been measured to between six and ten cubic meters! But is air ever fresh?  With perfume, oil burners, deodorant, chemical cleaning sprays, fertilisers, weed killers, pesticides and manure wafting in the breeze. How can the confined air be refreshed when there is no fresh air outside and the only fresh air inside is recycled through the purifier after it is brought in from outside by the air conditioner.

The Ventures Continue

Part Five of Vent Visits

This Sunday again I got up early, left at 7am and I caught the train to Kogarah which took longer than expected because of trackwork (need I say more?). I walked along Station Street, Paine Street and Queen Victoria Street towards Connemarra Street, Bexley. There wasn’t many people or cars around but unlike when I went to Bondi the sky was clear and the weather was noticeably warmer. When I reached Connemarra Street I didn’t realize Queen Victoria Street intersects, dividing one third of the street from the rest of itself.

Naturally I turned into the obvious part of Connemarra Street and of course the wrong direction, but I did spot a few modern vents which considerably made up for the extra walk (which wasn’t very long anyway). Bexley has two vents on the heritage register both are small wire vents similar to modern unregistered vents but they have a stylish pedestal base. It would however be more accurate to say that they have one and an bit because while one vent is intact and the other has been chopped down to a stump! The intact vent was easy to find, especially helpful that it had the heritage register sign stuck on it! The vent stump, being a stump and much shorter then a vent I had walked right past it about three times before registering that it was all that was left. I was shocked! The lack of searchable information on the vents, means that I am yet to discover why such destruction has occurred.

I retraced my steps back to Kogarah Station (considering the number of stops I wanted to make that day) and caught the train to Arncliffe. The weather had considerably warmed up by now. After consulting my maps I determined the best routine would be to walk along Firth Street, Forest Road and Wickham Street towards West Botany Street (which in hindsight turns is the long way and I should have gone along Butterworth Lane, Eden Street, Eden Street and Princess Highway to West Botany Street only because the vent is located at this end of the street). The good thing about a long walk, you have the time to notice things, like that birds like to sit on top of vents. I’ve seen some in Rhodes, Lilyfield, Glebe, Bondi, Marrickville and again in Arncliffe. Perhaps they have a thing for mephitic doors?

There was a motorway sign and a barbed wire fence in front of the vent or I should say where the vent once was! Again I was shocked. The difference between the Bexley ventastrophe and the Arncliffe ventastrophe is that the Arncliffe vent was an old brick masterpiece! The only existing evidence of its existence a small piece of brick wall and a already fading plaque with some information.
Looking up the Arncliffe Sewer Vent I found these two websites that go into more depth:
When I was so looking forward to seeing a brick vent, it was rather disappointing.

I walked back to Arncliffe Station and caught the train to Mascot, which required a change of trains at Wolli Creek officially the wind tunnel of Sydney! It was so windy and so cold. Of course the walk from Mascot Station to Tenterden Street, Botany did something in the way to warming me up. I walked along Bourke Road, Coward Street and all the way along Botany Road to Banksia Street and at the end turned onto Tenterden Street, Botany. Botany only has one vent on the heritage register and it is intact! Well maintained as far as I can tell from the paint job. The Botany vent was at the beginning of the street and much like the Bexley vents, it is a small metal vent with a stylish pedestal.

Stay tuned for the proposed Tour of The Great Big Fart Towers of Sydney, The City of Celebrated Stinks!

Cesspits and Pipe Dreams

A Guest Poost by Melinda

“What avails it to send a Missionary to me, a miserable man or woman living in a foetid Court, where every sense upon me for delight becomes a torment, and every minute of my life is new mire added to the heap under which I lie degraded? To what natural feeling within is he to address himself? … But give me my first glimpse of Heaven through a little of its light and air – give me water – help me to be clean.”

Charles Dickens, 1852, address to the Metropolitan Sanitary Association, London

I have always loved reading the stories Charles Dickens although, at times his stories are painful and difficult to endure. The savage treatment of children is especially confronting. Dickens wrote to draw attention primarily to the plight of the poor and his greatest concern was sanitation. When he wrote the enormously popular serialised Bleak House, the flushing toilet was a novel invention. Hailed as a solution to London’s open drains – the recipients of the contents of a million chamber pots every day – the flushing toilet quickly resulted in overflowing cesspits that poisoned waterways and eventually, The Thames. An outbreak of Cholera was blamed on ‘mud fog’, the stinking miasma of filth that hung over the city. The real culprit was dirty water, contaminated by human faeces.

In 2019 Sydney with a reliable network of underground pipes conducting human waste away from our homes, constantly, reliably and without a trace of odour, it’s hard to imagine a life lived in the constant presence of effluent. Not to mention the assorted serious illnesses that accompany a lack of sanitation. We think of inner-city dunny lanes as a quaint novelty. Toilets are a glamorous addition to a newly renovated bathroom and are available with heated seats and built in bidet. We take for granted high levels of cleanliness and hygiene. It is said that civil unrest is only three missed meals away. I expect that water shortages that resulted in unflushed, overflowing toilets would result in similar outcomes. Most of us would not even own a shovel, let alone have the capacity to dig a back-yard cesspit.

Reading historic novels is one way to remind myself of how fortunate I am to live where and when I do. Travelling to places around the world yet to benefit from an effective sewage system is another way. Elsewhere, in places not visited by tourists, more than a billion people do not have access to clean water and over two billion people live without sanitation. Every day UNICEF estimate that 6000 children die of water-borne and sanitary-related diseases. The facts are terrible, far more tragic than the plight of Dickensian London.

Be grateful for our sewerage system. I certainly am.

– Melinda