I volunteer at a historical village – a place with over 70 buildings and thousands of items for our visitors to see and on so many occasions the exhibits stimulate thoughts, memories and discussions. I have always been interested in stories – not so much fiction, but the real life stories particularly those of historic interest. I will be writing some short stories here, and perhaps also post stories that others have submitted.
I suspect my grandchildren will be quite shocked when they learn about using the toilet when I was a little girl!
My earliest memories are that when I was about three or four years old and lived with my grandparents life was quite difficult. It was after the end of World War II, and my father was then out of the army, and with the help of his brothers-in-law was building a new house, but it wasn’t ready until just after my sister was born.
There were six adults and three children living in the house and one lavatory. That is what we called them then – or in grand Australian lingo, the “dunny”. OK, there were other words used – “the thunderbox”, “the bog”, “the can”, “the crapper”, “the outhouse”, “the john” or “the throne”. No doubt other words were used too.
It was in fact a timber and corrugated iron “shed” just a few feet from the back door of the house, beside the laundry. It was built with roughly cut timber and corrugated iron, with an iron roof, probably with a dirt floor.
Where we sat to “go” was somewhat throne-like – a wide wooden seat firmly set above a hole, with a round hole on which one had to sit strategically so that all bodily waste dropped into the hole.
With so many folk using it, the container below would have filled up quickly. I have no recollection of what was done at that point – perhaps there was, as was the case in some places, the “night man” who came and emptied the contents, usually at night each week leaving an empty “can”, but as I was so little I never knew about that.
We only lived there for a short time, perhaps six or nine months, before moving into a new house with a lavatory INSIDE the house – one with a ceramic toilet bowl and sewerage. There was a tank of water about 2 meters above the toilet, firmly attached to the wall, which filled up with water from a pipe attached to the water supply, and as one pulled a chain or cord that was attached, it released the water flushing out the contents of the toilet bowl. The tank filled automatically ready for the next user.
I do recall that when we lived with my grandparents, we also had a “chamber pot”. This also had slang names – “the gazunder” (it goes under the bed). It was an enamel or pottery bowl with a handle that sat under the bed until such time that someone wanted to relieve themselves. My parents would have shared one under their bed, and my grandparents and aunt and uncle would have had theirs too. I think the children had one too – but I can’t remember that.
It is something that all members of the family would use – when the task was done it was pushed back under the bed, covered by a piece of fabric, and in the morning it would be the ladies of the house who had the task of emptying the pot, washing it and readying it for the next night. Women of course had to squat, and position themselves above it to ensure that there was no spilling. If it was a clear night with no rain, perhaps the family member would go outside to the lavatory – or the men would find a bush away from the house. No one liked using the chamber pot, but it was a necessity when the lavatory was some distance from the house. If anyone chose to go outside, they would have to carry a lamp or candle in the early days as there was no electric lighting to the lavatory.
People on farms or living in towns would not have sewerage, so they too would have a timber and corrugated lavatory, just like we had at my grandparent’s home, without the services of a night man. Often sawdust, soil, or disinfectant solutions would be poured into the hole to reduce the smell. When the hole was full or the dunny need to be put somewhere else, soil was shovelled in after the fragile building was moved to another suitable location.
Rolls of toilet paper in those days were a fairly new phenomenon. Many people had been used to using newspaper – often torn into squares and held together by string and hanging on a nail or hook on the wall. When telephone books came into being, the old books were used – the man of the house would drill a hole through one corner to attach to the nail or hook. No doubt the ink from the printing would leave its mark.
Of course the outdoor lavatories were not sealed and various animals, spiders, frogs or reptiles would take refuge there. There are many stories about finding a snake or lizard in the lavatory, and many folk were bitten on the bottom or private parts by a red back spider! You always had to check!! Other events would occur that would cause problems with the outdoor toilet – storms or falling trees would damage or destroy them as mostly they were built rather clumsily, or a farmyard vehicle would be accidentally driven into the dunny.
Public toilets were few and far between in those days – and mostly you had to pay to go to them. There would be a toilet attendant – certainly a lady in the ladies’ toilet, but since I never went to the men’s I don’t know how that worked. We would have to give the attendant a penny to use the toilet. You always made sure you had access to a penny or two if you were away from home!!
© Dianne Hill