Of Dalliances and The Dunny Men.
Not having sewerage connected was normal in Australia during the time of European immigration from early days till the 1960’s. The enormous distances between houses and suburbs and the sheer spread of just a few hundred people over many kilometres of land made the provision of infrastructure such as a sewerage system too expensive for many suburban areas at that time. The way out was for the local Council to provide a ‘dunny pan’. This pan was a heavy metal container coated with pitch or bitumen and actually smelt quite fresh and spicy when just delivered. A bit like an industrial harbour foreshore, with moorings and thick ropes, tarred anchors and pylons. This pan would be used in a small outside room of about a couple of square metres and called the ‘dunnee’. An outside toilet, sometimes politely called by the upper shore, ‘the outhouse’. You have to go sometimes, don’t you?
The dunny pan would be covered by another outer metal shell with a hinged wooden lid. With some imagination this could then be seen as a toilet. However, when lifting the lid, no matter what it looked like from outside, the smell and darkness from inside was broodingly brutal and left nothing to imagination. Not many would linger reading poetry or Thomas Hardy.
The pan would be collected once a week by burley blokes in blue singlets and verdant armpits, who would come before dawn and summer heat, to heave the sloshing but lidded pan on shoulders and put on the truck with the driver having a Lucky ciggie. Coarse oaths would be renting the still morning air and heavily shod feet would crunch the concrete path along the side of the veranda.
This dunnee pan would be capped by a lid secured on top with a metal band that would lever the lid tightly around the container, not unlike some preservatives such as sour Kraut or apple sauce of the present day. This was a job purely reserved for the dinky-di locals and much coveted. It was well paid and had all sorts of lurks, including dalliances with lonely women and early ‘knock-off’ times when finished. I am not sure if the smell added to their appeal, but rumours had it that many a woman, widowed, single or even married, was left happy after an early visit from the ‘dunnee man’.
Large families were given a ‘special 2 pan treat’, this usually meant giving very generously at Christmas time.( A couple of crates of beer would suffice.) Any large family that were too stingy at Christmas would soon find a lonely single pan again. Those dunnee men were often kind rogues but a law onto their own, revered and respected by many, but feared by some. The ‘dunny man’ is now part of folklore and Tamworth Country music, but long gone since.
Our family was more than large and dad had to make some adjustments to a down pipe outside the dunnee that would carry rain water from the roof to the open storm water drain at the front of the street. Despite our generosity towards the Shire’s dunnee men at Christmas time, we never had more than two pans a week. For our family this was not enough. I never did find out how our neighbours coped, they had six children as well. We were on friendly terms but not that friendly that you could ask; what do you do with your poo? In any case, their concern was more focussed on the fan tail pigeons’ shit on their shiny new roof tiles, all caused by my brother John’s flock of sixty birds… It would be unwise to mention anything to do with poo!
It was not as if our family were too copious with ‘solid stuff’, no, it was the sloshing around of the liquid waste that was the problem. Of course, being right next to neighbours it wasn’t as if one could go outside at any time and urinate in the garden. This is what happened though. When the height in second pan became critical, and the dunnee man still a day or so away from collecting, that the boys were told to do as much as possible at school or wait till late at night and then in the garden in the dark.
In the summer this caused some olfactory concerns and when this ammonia like stench could no longer be hidden or blamed on Dad’s fertiliser for the veggie patch, that Dad did a piece of engineering that is still admired until this day, alas without his presence.
As I already said before, there was a metal downpipe running on the outside of the dunny that carried rainwater from the roof to the trench at the front of the house. Dad simply cut a small hole in the fibro on the inside of the dunnee directly abutting the downpipe and conveniently next to the pan. This hole was also made on the inside of the downpipe, accessible now from within. Both holes corresponded and synchronized brilliantly. This hole was then used by all the males (six in total) as a urinal taking the piss straight down the downpipe and to the front of the house in the open stormwater trench. This trench was usually overgrown with weeds. Generous rains would wash it downhill and finally into concrete stormwater and into the Georges River. Council used to come along three times a year to get rid of the weeds and mow the grass around it.
Well, our trench was the most luxurious green and lush looking of the whole street. It would have won a blue ribbon for excellence if that nature strip could have been entered into the Royal Easter Show. It wasn’t till some years later that sewerage was connected and my mother’s dream of ‘own bathroom’ with inside flushing toilet was truly fulfilled.
My father was a genius. With the toilet indoors, the dunny man receding into history; we were all riding high in the achievements wrought so hard by this migrant family of six children and parents.