Our history and heritage

In pictures: Sydney’s public restrooms in the early 1900s

To celebrate World Toilet Day, we step back a century to explore the early days of public sanitation in our area.

  • Men keep taking the... well, you know

    This cast iron men’s urinal was one of 2 in the inner city purchased in the 1880s and installed in The Rocks. It’s the first recorded public toilet in our area.

    It was hoped it would stop men urinating in the street. Whether it was successful or not, we can’t say!

    It was originally situated on Observatory Hill but relocated to its current location on George Street in the early 1970s.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00032320
  • A hard working day means a hard working trip to the loo.

    Many of Sydney’s urinals were located near work sites in the 19th century.

    This early cast iron men’s urinal was near the corner of Watson Road and Argyle Place in Millers Point, close to the wharves at Darling Harbour and Walsh Bay.

    It was demolished and replaced with a new toilet block in the 1950s.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00032319
  • Water views

    The waterfront areas of Darling Harbour and Walsh Bay were transformed from 1906 to 1922 with the construction of Hickson Road and associated stores and wharves.

    This sandstone building accommodating a men’s toilet was built on Hickson Road near Dawes Point in the 1920s.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00032324
  • Hiding in plain sight

    For 30 years, public toilets in Sydney were strictly a male-only offering. Sydney’s first purpose-built public lavatories for women were constructed in Hyde Park in 1910.

    The domestic cottage-style building is obscured with foliage for privacy. Perhaps it was a little too well hidden, as it was considered a ‘failure’ by the City of Sydney council because of low patronage. The building was demolished in the 1950s.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00007482
  • The best seat in the city?

    This public convenience was constructed in 1916 to a design in the inter war free classical style by William Henry Foggitt, the NSW Housing Board's architect.

    His design was subsequently dwarfed by the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s southern approach in the 1920s. The public convenience was only for men until the 1970s, when the building was modified to accommodate female toilets as well.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00007510
  • Ladies only

    The Gardener’s Lodge in Victoria Park was built in 1888 as a gatehouse at the main entrance to the University of Sydney.

    The ornate sandstone building was converted for use as a women’s attended convenience in the 1930s. It included an attendant’s room because ‘undesirables’ had been found lurking in the park.

    Credit: City of Sydney Archives A-00007483