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


A Sense of Smell

How to preserve, essentially capture the stench of a place when the scent is no longer wafting through the air, no longer lingers on the surfaces of the place and the only evidence of its past presents is a suspicious stain if there is anything at all.

A smell can be pleasant, sweet even like a bouquet of roses but it is always fragrant whether sweet, savoury or pungently noxious.

Smells have an undeniable essence, some would almost say a flavour. Depending on what it is a smell might be delicious or rotten. It’s no mistake that “something smells fishy” exists, you just have to walk past the fish markets to grasp a nostril full.

Our daily lives are saturated with scents from perfume, deodorants, cologne, air fresheners and surface, floor and other cleaning sprays too numerous to mention and all scented! The scents are uniformly sweet, savoury, neutral, uber feminine or urb masculine. Aiming to disguise, diffuse and remove foul scents, over saturating our nostrils. And of course there are the aromas of the kitchen and unmentionable olfaction odours that always prop up when someone lets off a silent but deadly…

We’ve invented air purifiers! To rid our air of unwanted particles and scents. But air was never virginally pure nor was it historically sanitized and scentless. It has always had a rich flavour, rooms had an ambience that lingered. They were saturated with aromas potpourri, oils, herbs, drying meat and bed pans to name a few.

The Industrial Revolution that brought forth the air filtering technology that would lead to air purifiers, invented in order to combat the heavy industrial pollution a by product of coal (the main source of power and heat) that produced heavy smog and foul smelling air.

The purification of air and the sanitisation of scents is problematic, we are forgetting what life historically smelt like. Smells of the past are an abstract idea. Disconnected from memory, the source of smells and essentially left lurking in the background. When smells can do so many wonderful things! Unlock memories, be a warning, create a calming effect, an ambience, a mood, make mouths water and stomachs growl, and even to high heaven!

But where would we be without a sense of smell?

Substation No. 6

Underground Public Convenience

Location: Taylor Square at the intersection of Forbes and Bourke Street, Darlinghurst
Construction: 1904-1907
– The underground men’s public toilet was built in 1907, the Electric Substation in 1904
– Also contains the first female toilet in Talyor Square, built in 1938 in the Substation building

1800 Taylor Square began its colonial suburban life.
– The surrounding suburb has been renamed after two Governors’ wives – firstly ‘Heniretta Town’ (after Mrs Macquarie) and after Eliza Darling wife of Governor Ralph Darling.
– With colonisation and the thefts of Aboriginal land the area was used by colonists as an Aboriginal reserve
– And for flour grain grinding windmills

1830 Darlinghurst a densely populated suburb, it’s streets lined with houses.

1841 Darlinghurst Gaol, known as Woolloomooloo Stockade, was built from sandstone quarried from nearby William Street (1921 it became the East Sydney Technical College).

1842 The Court House next to the gaol, was built (It remains in use today), by this time the area in question had been renamed Taylor Square a busy steam transport interchange.

1883 Public urinals, flimsy ‘pissoirs’ occupied the site.

1896 The Municipal Council of Sydney Electric Lighting Bill was passed by Parliament, leading to the construction of Electricity Substation No. 6 (completed in 1904).

1900 Outbreak of bubonic plague in Sydney sparked a WHS reform, Sydney Municipal Council undertook to build one underground men’s convenience a year from 1901 to 1911 (a total of twelve). Leading to the replacing the public urinals in Taylor Square with Underground Men’s Conveniences (completed in 1907).

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.

1988 The women’s conveniences were closed to public access and in 1993 the substation decommissioned.

1998 The Men’s conveniences were closed to public access.

The Public Conveniences and The Electric Substation have since remained somewhat obscure civic monuments, from time to time embellished with street art and residue from the surrounds,

2009 – 2019 The Taylor Square ran a temporary art installation program, an attempt to revitalize unused facilities.

Artist: Louisa Dawson
Artwork: Unravel
Installed: 1st Nov 2009 – 14th Feb 2010
Location: Taylor Square, Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street

Artist: Dale Miles
Artwork: Underworld
Installed: 20th Feb 2010 – 30th Aug 2010
Location: Taylor Square, Substation No.6

Artist: Annie Kennedy
Artwork: Camp Stonewall
Installed: 10th Sep 2010 – 31st Mar 2011
Location: Taylor Square, Substation No.6

Artist: David Cross
Artwork: Drift
Installed: 17th Nov 2011 – 18th Dec 2011
Location: Taylor Square, Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street

Artist: Magnificant Revoulation Australia
Artwork: Cycle-In Cinema
Installed: 24th Feb 2012 – 26th Feb 2012
Location: Taylor Square, Substation No.6

Artist: Makeshift
Artwork: A Leaf From A Book Of Cities
Installed: 1st March 2012 – 31st March 2019
Location: Taylor Square, Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street

Artist: Lynette Wallworth
Artwork: Rekindling Venus: In Plain Sight
Installed: 2012 – 31st May 2019
Location: Taylor Square, Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street

Artist: Reko Rennie
Artwork: Always Was Always Will be
Installed: 22nd Sep 2012 – 20th Nov 2017
Location: Taylor Square, Campbell Street / Flinders Street / Oxford Street

Artist: Tim Knowles
Artwork: WindGrid, WindLab, WindWalk
Installed: 14th Oct 2014
Location: Taylor Square, Substation No.6

This artworks don’t exist in this location but the public convenience remain inconveniently locked up.

Venturing Through The City

Part Four of Vent Visits

On Saturday I caught the M52 bus from Bowden Street, Ryde to Victoria Rd, Rozelle and walked towards Lilyfield Rd, Lilyfield. The reason for my longer than I anticipated walk, to visit the Lilyville sewer vent.

Lilyfield Road runs from Rozelle into Lilyfield, running along the edge of Rozelle’s Easton Park where I discovered Rozelle Sewerage Pumping Station. A cute little red brick cottage, almost inconspicuous except for the three Sydney Water signs! It’s small yard is surrounded by a wooden fence, white picket in the front and brown standard on sides and back. There are two small modern metal sewer vents in the yard on the right.

Lilyfield sewer vent is located on a hill,which with it’s size makes it extra imposing. It is a massive metal sewer vent, similar in design to the Burwood and Bondi Junction metal sewer vents but his time it’s green. Although I can’t smell the tell-tale sign of sewage, it is the first sewer vent where I can physically hear and see the ventilation process in action! I hear sounds that making me think of rushing, gargling water and see what appears to be at first glance, white smoke wafting off from the top of the vent but in fact is the gases escaping into the air.

Lilyfield’s vent is exactly a street away from the light rail, which is quite convenient. On my walk from Rozelle to Lilyfield I had past small boutique shops, many bus stops, a vet, industrial areas, a park, crossed a walking bridge, many houses of single, double story and townhouse variety, and of course spotted quite a few smaller modern sewer vents.

I took the light rail to Central and caught the next train to North Sydney and walked I would estimate an even longer stretch (which has nothing to do with it being mostly uphill) towards my next stop Falcon St, North Sydney. I walked along Miller Street away from the skyscrapers, smaller shops, houses and three parks, spotting a few smaller modern metal vents on the way.

North Sydney’s sewer vent standing 3o metres tall, a monumental scaled brick affair positioned in the middle of a traffic island and surrounded by foliage. Channelling traffic and sewer fumes, now that’s multitasking! It is however not fenced off, allowing close-up contact.

After walking back to North Sydney station I caught the next train back to Central and walked along Broadway to York St, Glebe. Another long walk, I know!

I walked a long Broadway, Arundel Street and Ross Street before arriving at my destination York Street, Glebe. Passing out of the city, away from the skyscrapers, universities, parks, boutique stores, shopping centres, houses and schools. Again I spotted smaller modern sewer vents before spying the brick beauty that is Glebe sewer vent smack bang in the middle of York Street, boxed in between houses and surrounded by a wooden fence.

Poetry in Venting

An Ode To Sewer Vent

You can find them
Scattered across urban areas
In your suburbs,
And your cities.

In your local park,
Perhaps down the street
Or just around the corner
And across the road.

Even in your own backyard
Behind the house, 
Attached to the side
Or on the roof.

Dark alley ways,
Narrow streets
And dead ends
Are their favourite haunt

They convene at gas stations,
In built up industrial areas.
Trailing along train lines
And in the shopping district.

In groups, in pairs and singly
They are never too far,
Markers of the sewer line,
Venting our air.

Venturing by the Sea

Part Three of Vent Visits

On Sunday morning I caught a train at 7:30am that was to, with one change at Central Station, arrive at Bondi Junction Station at quarter past 8am. It was an intensely foggy morning, that and the lack of cars and pedestrians around at the hour I set out for Meadowbank Station a quarter past 7am created an eerie atmosphere. The reason for so early a trip? The chance to visit three heritage listed sewer vents, of course! One located in Bondi Junction, one in Bellevue Hill and one in North Bondi with the hope of spying any smaller, modern vents whilst on my travels.

My routine:
I started on the correct street, in the complete opposite direction. I was walking down Grafton Street and turned down Leswell Street, when I should have turned up Newland Street. Back tracking to Newland Street and proceeding up it, I walked past Oxford Street, Spring Street, Ebley Street and Keiran Street. I turned right on to Birrell Street, at which point I could already see the vent, a tall wire construction, much like the first sewer vent I found in Burwood on Grantham St only the metal wire wasn’t black and dilapidated, rather it looked shiny and almost pastel blue in the light.
Walking along Birrell Street, I pasted Keiran Lane, Lawson Street and Lawson Lane. I turned right onto Denison Street and proceeded to the vent. A short walk up the hill that is Denison Street (it’s roughly half way up the street), make up of a mix of two-story and single story houses that a pastel coloured.

My next stop took me back to Oxford Street, through the mall and continuing along Oxford Road which merges into Old South Head Road. I proceed down Old South Head Road until Victoria Road, veer off and continue until I again veer off this time onto Bellevue Road. I continue down Bellevue Road, until I reach Cooper Park Road and although the vent’s address is Streatfield Road it is visible from here. I turn into Streatfield Road anyway (the very next street), for a closer look.
This time the sewer vent, like the previously visited vents in Marrickville, Lewisham and Stanmore, made a red brick. Again it is tall and imposing and by all appearances in perfect condition. However I can’t get too close, it is positioned on a small hill in at the back of a yard that is surrounded by a fence and all on three sides by other houses. The houses located in Streatfield Road and Cooper Park Road are two story in the modern, art deco or Queen Anne, look expensive and well maintained.

The final location on my routine and perhaps the furthest was located on Military Road in North Bondi. I walked back to the point where Oxford Street becomes Old South Head Road but instead of walking back to Bondi Junction I turned left down Bondi Road. I proceeding down Bondi Road towards Bondi Beach, I turned left onto Campbell Parade, walked past Bondi Beach, waves rolling by and walked up and up and up a hill turning left onto Military road and up again and past the Bondi Golf & Digger’s Club.
Right before my eyes, in the middle of the golf course, across from hole 6 is the sewer vent! A concrete affair, but unlike the almost identical concrete vents in Burwood on Railway Parade and Croydon on Paisley Rd, this vent is cylindrical and doesn’t resemble a Greek style column.

I walked down the hill, past the beach back to Bondi Junction and caught the next train, all in all the combined walks took me from a quarter past 8am to 11am, all up roughly six and a half hours and just in time for lunch.

Defining Space

A typical home is made up of categories:
– bedroom(s)
– study
– kitchen
– lounge room
– laundry
– bathroom
– outdoor space

Each category defines the space it embodies, by what belongs there and what it excludes. We effectively compartmentalize our experiences.

An oven would not be found in the bathroom or a bedroom, just like a toilet wouldn’t be found in the lounge room. Naturally it stands to reason that the chemicals used to clean an oven are different to the chemicals that clean a toilet. We only cook food in one and shit in the other. Hence the kitchen cleaning materials must be kept apart from the bathroom cleaning materials, much like the Montagues and Capulets!

This separating of spaces, furniture, appliances, items and materials, places boundaries around and in the home, keeping everything in its place. In the midst of this separating, the zones of domesticity gather gendered attributes like flies to honey. A bedroom has the gender of the owner: girl’s room, boy’s room, parent’s room. Study: the traditional mancave. Kitchen: traditionally the female domain. Lounge room: a shared space where the family congregates. Laundry: another traditional female domain. Bathroom: unisex, unless you have enough and can be bothered separating the genders (a rather pointless exercise).

The mark of a good toilet is not its gender or its cleanliness, although that last one won’t go unnoticed! It is the size, it should be small and preferably proportioned to the individual. A cozy space that is all your own, where you can be as smelly as you please! (Farting essentially is the human version of territory scent marking.) Have you ever noticed how the smaller a space, the safer you feel? (Though not if you are claustrophobic of course!)

A Bathroom is a confined space, not to keep the smells in, to keep the smells out! What you breathe in and what you breathe out share something intrinsically in common, the openings. And to top it off your nose and mouth are connected (it seems they like to share)! When you fart you smell it because you just breathed it in, this is unavoidable unless of course you are able to sprint away after ever fart. The more disquieting thought perhaps is, that every breath you take gets shared around with every human and animal in your nearest vicinity.

Venturing Again

Part Two of Vent Visits

This Sunday whilst in Marrickville I took the opportunity to visit the historic brick sewer vent on Premier Street. Earlier on my way to Marrickville I had noticed a tall brick chimney and just assumed it belonged to the sewer vent on Premier Street.
To get to Marrickville I’d actually caught the train to Tempe Station, assuming (again!) that because Premier Street was a short and relatively flat walk from Tempe Station across a nice park or so I thought. It was flat that is until Premier Street which starts out as a steady reliable hill populated with trees and an interesting variety of houses but it is deceptive (like all maps), it quickly puts your pacing to the test by inclining sharply at an ever increasingly rate that is until you reach the very top of the hill which isn’t exactly flat either.
On the way up there were also three smaller modern metal vents visible from Premier Street but not directly on the street. When I finally saw the historic brick vent, something was off… It was short, I’d go so far as to call it positively stubby! When comparing it with what I had seen at a distance whilst travelling on the train from Sydenham Station to Tempe Station. The vent I had seen also of brick but it was tall, strikingly grand! A vent to be proud of, visible from far distances.
This vent, this stubby brick chimney was visible and of course taller than the average house chimney but for all that it was only visible from ten metres away. I mean sure it was on a hill and easily elevated high above my eye level but its not like I’m looking at the ground!

When looking up the Marrickville Sewer Vent I found these two articles that explain it’s rather altered stature:
The the vent that was seen on the train is located at the opposite end of Carrington Road to Premier Street (the corner or Carrington Rd and Myrtle St) , there is a catch however, it’s location a small triangular piece of land with a couple of buildings is surrounded on all sides train tracks and a tall wire fence. Impossible to get too close up without breaking the law…
On my way home, I walked to Marrickville Station, considering it being closer to this end of Carrington Road and I saw four modern metal sewer vents! Marrickville is full to the brim with sites of Sewerage.

Smaller modern vents:


Part One of Vent Visits

This Monday I took a train to Strathfield and walked in the complete opposite direct, like a lost tourist but in my own city! I do not have the best sense of direction (even with a map) but it only took me about ten minutes to find the street I was looking for – Churchill Ave, Strathfield. Churchill Ave leads from the shopping centre and Strathfield train station to apartment buildings, but the bulk of the street is cute one story dwells of brick with chimneys. About three houses from the end of the street is a fenced off yard with a Sydney Water sign warning off trespassers and containing a steel sewer vent!

My next two stops were in Burwood, Grantham Street and Railway Parade. Rather than taking the train from Strathfield to Burwood, I walked from Churchill Ave to Parramatta Road and proceeded to Grantham Street where I saw the second steel vent! This section of Parramatta Rd was full to the brim with cars going in both directions but the footpath was on the desolate side of life. The vent was located in the back corner of an importer’s visitor parking lot, which had the appearance of abandonment. No lights or life in the building a modest one story dwelling that had seen better days and no cars in the lot. The vent however is tall and imposing, I’m amazed I walked passed it twice (I was looking in the complete opposite direction)!

Then I walked down Grantham Street, Rowley Street, Mount Pleasant and Wentworth Road to Railway Parade. Railway Parade is bordered on one side by train tracks and the other apartment builds, houses and intersecting streets. This next vent was very easy to spot from a street away (in fact I’ve seen it nearly every single day on the train)! Located on the corner of a street at a junction and in the backyard of three apartment blocks with a wrap-around fence. It is even taller than the steel vents and concrete, it looks like a lonely column without a roof or building to support and fellow columns to stand up with.

The next stop on my routine was in Paisley Road, Croydon. Again I walked from Burwood to Croydon and this time was even quicker and easier to find because Railway Parade leads straight into Paisley Road. To get to Paisley Road I passed through the centre of Burwood shopping centre with the train line on one side and apartments, streets, office buildings, shops and house on the other. This vent like the last one is made of concrete and like the last one looks like a lonely column only it is bigger and more imposing!

Continuing along Paisley Road I made my way down Meta Street, Hennessy Street, Elizabeth Street, Grosvenor Crescent, Longport Street, Railway Terrace, Hunter Street and finally to my next stop The Boulevarde, Lewisham. I did get somewhat lost in Lewisham but I will maintain that it was the low light (a clear case of underestimation of the speed of winter sunsets)! This sewer vent is made of bricks and looks much like an excessively grand and oversized fireplace chimney without the house or the fireplace! Like both the concrete vents this brick one is large, but I can’t quite decide which is taller?

The final destination was Corunna Road, Stanmore. Being the last it was naturally the hardest to find! (It was quite dark at this point) I walked from The Boulevarde down Railway Terrace, Trafalgar Street and Crystal Street to Corunna Road, Stanmore (incidentally although the vent and street are recorded as being within Stanmore they are actually closer to Petersham station). This vent, like the last one is of brick but rounder, a little on the shorter side and where the Lewisham vent seemed to be positioned in between two houses, the Stanmore vent is clearly on the corner of a street smack bang in the front yard of one house. It would certainly make the conversational piece to break any awkward silences when guests come to visit.

The Boy Who Never Washed

A Guest Poost by Jane McLoed

How do you relate to poo?
Poo and I have never really gotten along. I have so many problems with food that I often dread going to the toilet because:
a) It’ll take too long.
b) I’m still not satisfied afterwards.
c) It makes me feel unclean.

A part of me wishes that JK Rowling was right and we could magically remove poo from our bowels with a simple spell.

How do you relate to sewage?
It makes me gag. I hate it. I wash my hands if I even touch a door knob so you can imagine me around sewage.

What are your thoughts on the toilet, do you know where your sewage goes?
I usually scroll through my phone and distract myself while on the toilet.
I have a sewage tank at home but I’m not sure where the sewage goes from there…

Are you aware of the pipes that ceaselessly flow under your feet in the city streets?
Well… I’m aware now.

How do you relate to the maintenance of a clean city?
I’m a firm believer that a cleaner city will have a VERY positive impact for the residents as well as the environment. It’ll definitely boost the overall health of the population. Both physically and mentally.

What does it mean to be clean?

The Boy Who Never Washed

There once was a young boy who never washed. He was constantly covered in dirt, grime and slosh.
He came home from school with mud in his hair, when told he was filthy, he’d say: “I don’t care!”

Kids would avoid him, he smelt quite bad. When he didn’t wash his hands, his mother would get mad.

“You need to shower, you’re running amuck! You’re going to get sick if you keep this up!”

The boy just laughed and jumped on his bed, suddenly he fell and hit his head.

He coughed and he wheezed, he looked like a ghoul. His mother rushed him to the hospital.

“What’s wrong with my boy?” His mother said, crying as the doctor shook his head.

“He’s very ill with diarrhea, cholera and typhoid. I’m afraid death is something we can’t avoid!”

The mother cried: “He’s just a little dirty from playing at school! Surely he can’t die from being a mud-loving fool!”

“He played in sewage filled waters” the doctor said, “I’m sorry ma’am, but your boy is dead.”

The mother wept and the doctor sighed. The boy was silent when he died.

This boy would be fine if it was just normal dirt, not human faecal matter which caused so much hurt.

If the rivers were clean and not polluted with excrement, his death and many others could be avoided, but we’re negligent.

We should care about diseases caused from pollution and human waste. Society and the government need to act now, post-haste.

I leave you now as you wash yourself clean, be glad you’re not the boy who died from playing in a stream.

– Jane McLeod