The designer revival of a backyard dunny?

The enduring presence of a turn of the century brick outhouse in the Sydney suburb of Balmain piqued the interest of our property contrarians, Jonathan Chancellor and Margie Blok, despite the property failing to sell at its 11 October Auction where over $3 million was expected.

While the house is described by the listing agent Monique Dower at Belle Property as striking “a perfect balance between classical architecture and cutting-edge design”, the old thunderbox harks back to the days of previous generations when homes didn’t have indoor flushable toilets.

Viewed on Google Earth, the dunny is connected to an adjoining building next door, so perhaps its preservation was as much about the neighbourhood harmony.

This week Jonathan and Margie discuss the merits of the rare maintenance of the once ubiquitous building at the bottom of the backyard.

He said:

I’d previously reported on the demise of the backyard dunny. But that was in Sydney’s east. I think this updated Balmain dunny is inspired – it is certainly more functional, and far less sexist, than a man’s shed.

With a garden hose hanging off the outside wall, you could pop inside when nature calls while watering the lawn, or indeed, while turning sausages on the barbecue conveniently placed against the adjacent fence. Would have loved it if they went with a Philippe Starck bowl, but see it’s a Geberit instead.

She said:

I’m with Jonathan, this dunny is a winner. Highly practical, it is ideally placed metres from the plunge pool, so dripping wet residents and their guests don’t need to schlep through the house to the powder room inside. Also, it solves the hideous issue of children pissing in pools (a personal bugbear of mine) – no excuses for kids not using the loo here.

If I owned this dunny, I’d add to its authenticity by growing a choko vine over the ripple iron roof, and placing a scary looking plastic spider near the toilet bowl – for I grew up in a house with an outdoor dunny (albeit a flushable one) where spiders resided alongside my father’s garden tools.

Before modern suburban sewerage systems were built, dunnies were designed for practicality. In the good old days before water flushable toilets, outhouses with cans were placed at a distance from the house for reasons of smell and hygience. And often they were set on a property’s rear boundary with lane access for the removal of waste. Collected at night, once of twice a week by men with a horse and cart hired by the local council, the waste was euphemistically referred to as ‘night soil’ – hence the term ‘night soil’ lane was coined. In inner city suburbs these days, former ‘night soil’ lanes have morphed to provide easy car access to a garage, or a pedestrian thoroughfare if the lane is narrow.

Of course the term – as flat as a shit carter’s hat – still lives on with surf reports.

Words: Jonathon Chancellor, www.propertyobserver.com.au