The provision of public toilets in Sydney in the early 20th century was a response to the public health concerns following the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in January 1900.

Men’s urinal on Drivers Avenue, Moore Park, c1934 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 538/037)

But public urinals had been provided from the late 19th century to maintain and set standards of respectability, particularly of men.

Men’s attended convenience, Macquarie Place, 1934 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 538/009)

A number of urinals (or pissoirs) were installed in busy spots around the centre of Sydney in the 1880s, as way of discouraging men from weeing in the street.

Sydney’s first underground loo was built on Moore Street (today’s Martin Place) in 1901. Another nine underground loos would be built underneath Sydney roads and pavements from 1901 through to 1912. Similarly to the urinals, the underground toilets were for men only.

Women’s attended convenience, Hyde Park, 1934 (City of Sydney Archives, NSCA CRS 538/016)

The first women’s toilets were built in 1910 in Hyde Park. These toilets were not underground but rather were put inside a domestic cottage-style building and obscured with foliage. Other public lavatories for women began to be built, most of them following the same style.

Many of the original underground public toilets didn’t survive the 20th century. In the mid 1990s, four of the remaining toilets were put out of use. Of these, one was demolished and two were filled with sand to street level. The public toilet on Taylor Square is a survivor – although no longer in use, it’s still there and was recently part of an art installation.

 

 

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