Dunny lane – an essential feature of a former time

When there were no flushing loos, dunny lane was a pivotal part of town planning.

Dunny lane – an essential feature of a former time

YourLifeChoices’ 90-year-old columnist Peter Leith has covered a lot of territory in recent months, from lobbying the funeral industry for being too wasteful to expressing his delight in donating his body to a university for research. Today he returns to his Vanishing Australia series.


Even to this day there are, in parts of Australia, parallel rows of back-to-back houses whose back fences share access to a narrow, often cobbled lane. It is ‘the dunny lane’.

In days gone by, once a week, early in the morning the night man’s cart would traverse these lanes emptying and replacing the bins that stood under the wooden seats of all the backyard toilets.

If you were a newspaper boy, or a late party-goer, you would often see the night cart turning into or out of these lanes. The gigantic, somnolent Clydesdale horse and muscular, caped and hooded night man were familiar sights.

If you were a late party-goer and sought the solace of the backyard dunny before bed, your efforts might be interrupted by the pan being removed from beneath your posterior.

At such times, it was best to avoid starting a conversation.

Do you remember the night cart man? Were you ever interrupted ‘on the job’?

Do you have a story or an observation for Peter? Send it to sunday@yourlifechoices.com.au and put ‘Sunday’ in the subject line.

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    To make a comment, please register or login
    Dave R
    17th May 2020
    I certainly remember backyard toilets and the dunny cart.
    But few people used to go out there late at night as we kept a pot under the bed if nature called in the wee hours.
    17th May 2020
    I can remember the night cart man one Christmas eve when I was young went out to see my father and uncle with a plank across the pan sitting and sharing a beer with the man
    17th May 2020
    I'm one of the latest baby boomers there is, & we never had that experience. I suspect that's because, a): I lived in rural towns. b): By the 1960's, septic tanks, though expensive initially, were far easier to have installed & thus emptied by the ubiquitous sewerage truck every few months or once a year, if you were lucky enough to have a biggie.

    Then eventually came along sewerage piping to the local treatment works & those Dunny Lanes - at least in the " big cities " became advantageous shortcuts for kids on their bikes, to eventually demolish the outhouse & replace it with a shed/garage for the family car, ute or whatever. Not to mention neighbourhood socialising on special occasions or public holidays when the weather was beaut.

    Such &, better were the days of yore when there was strong, mutual neighbourhood trust; you could leave your home unlocked & return to find it completely " unmolested ". Have a decent yarn over the backyard fence & regularly invite those living either side over for a weekend barby.
    17th May 2020
    I remember the night carter, if he did not get a suitable gift (ie bottles of beer) at Christmas then you could expect regular 'drips' from full the pan as it was exchanged. My father used to say working on he night cart was the best way to cure nail biting. When I told my grandkids what the back lane at Nannas house was originally used for they reckoned I was pulling their leg. Nowadays I enjoy having my en-suite, five seconds to the loo, what luxury.
    17th May 2020
    We used to cook inside and shit outside. Now, to the most part, it is the reverse. Remember the night soil guys well. Even in the 70’s in Campbelltown before sewage was provided.
    grandpa Dave
    14th Jun 2020
    In a lot of country towns, the night soil was collected by an entrepreneural Asian chap who also grew and supplied the town's vegetables.

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