The name “Dunny” is the Australian slang for a toilet. The “outhouse” is also used to describe this structure since they were located at the back of the house or in a paddock.

Australia is a vast area and it took a long time to put sewerage into many towns. This was due firstly to the cost and secondly because of the enormous area to be covered. I am not sure when most towns had sewerage but it could have been in the sixties. Brisbane had un-sewered suburbs in the seventies and therefore there were many suburbs needing “Outhouses” and it was not until the 1980’s that Tasmania was fully sewered.

The Dunnies required a “dunny man” to take the excrement away. The waste was collected in a can placed under the dunny. The can would be collected, emptied, washed and replaced weekly by contractors hired by the local council.

Dan, Dan, the dunny man
Washed his face in a toilet can
(Children’s ditty)

There are still dunnies in remote areas where it is not viable to pump water and sewerage piping to but who have a great need for these structures.

The Great Australian Dunny Race has become an icon during the Weerama Festival at Werribee.

Colloquial expressions:

Toilet paper Dunny Paper (mostly torn pieces of newspaper)
Going to the lavatory Going to the Dunny, the John, the Outhouse or the Bog
On Arrival They ‘Point Percy at the Porcelain” – Barry Humphries
The truck carrying the waste The Dunny Cart.
Dunny Lanes Walkways that allowed the dunny man to collect the pans.

The word dunny is not used much today, however, the word is part of our vocabulary such as:

It stuck out like a dunny in the desert You couldn’t miss it
All alone like a country dunny Nobody around
Carry the can Do the dirty work.

The structures were kept away from the home because of the smell and hygiene. In mining areas, they were generally placed over disused mine shafts. The sheds were made of wood or corrugated iron or both. The structures were roughly made and had many spaces for spiders and such to enter. Many people were bitten by “redback” spiders which although not life-threatening was an extremely painful experience  – hence the song. “There is a red back on the Toilet seat.

Paul Hogan, the Australian Comedian was once referred to  “As Australian as a slab off a dunny door”.

The dunny is a much-loved piece of Australian architecture and will remain a prominent part of our heritage.

Kimberley Dunny