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2000/22/1 Sanitary pan with lid (dunny can toilet), metal, maker unknown, used at Matraville, New South Wales, Australia, 1950-1970. Click to enlarge.

Metal sanitary pan

Made 1950-1970
In Australian suburbs and rural towns where the sewer wasn't connected, people usually had an outside toilet. The toilet seat was made of a plank of wood secured at its ends to the walls of the building with a large round hole in the middle. Underneath was the removable sanitary pan (dunny can), and on a regular basis, usually weekly, the full pan was taken away and replaced with an empty one. This was the job of the sanitary carter (dunnyman).

The first sewers in Sydney were constructed in 1857. Wealthy people had 'water closets' that ran into the sewerage system, which discharged into Sydney Harbour. This system soon became inadequate and a large engineering project saw the development of a sewerage system leading to an ocean outfall at Bondi. The Northern (now called Bondi) Ocean Outfall System was completed in 1889. A Southern System was also completed in 1889. Originally this discharged to a sewage farm near Botany Bay. As Sydney spread westward, a Western Suburbs Sewerage Scheme was built and this also discharged into the sewage farm. Eventually a Southern and Western Suburbs Ocean Outfall was constructed, emptying into the sea at Malabar, north of Botany Bay. This was put into commission in 1919. By the 1920s there was an ocean outfall on the northern side of Sydney as well, discharging at North Head.

As a result of these massive engineering works over several decades, much of Sydney was sewered by the 1930s. However, there were still many suburbs that remained unsewered until around the 1960s. Ironically, the sandhill suburbs near the Malabar treatment works and ocean outfall were amongst the last to receive sewerage.

The sanitary pan in the Powerhouse Museum collection was donated by a resident who was born and raised in Matraville, one of the suburbs near Malabar. He and his wife still live in the Matraville house they built after they were married in 1954. The house was connected to the sewer in 1962. For reasons that he cannot now remember, on the last day that the 'dunny man' came to collect the 'dunny can' the donor asked him to leave an empty pan. In 1997 he offered this pan to the Powerhouse Museum. It still has the strong tarry smell of disinfectant.

The donor remembers the dunny man coming round in the early hours once a week, carrying an empty can under his arm up the path to the backyard outhouse, putting a lid on the full pan and taking it back to the 'dunny cart' on his shoulder. Only a few streets away, the full pans would be emptied directly into the sewer line that led to the Malabar outfall.

The pan adds to the story of Australia's sanitary history along with the willow-pattern toilet bowl and the dual flush toilet cistern both also in the collection.


Aird, W.V., The water supply, sewerage and drainage of Sydney, Sydney Metropolitan Water Sewerage and Drainage Board, Sydney, 1961.

Scullion, John, conversations with Megan Hicks, curator of health and medicine, Powerhouse Museum, 1997 and 2002.


Object No.


Object Statement

Sanitary pan with lid (dunny can toilet), metal, maker unknown, used at Matraville, New South Wales, Australia, 1950-1970

Physical Description

The pan is a metal cylinder with a lid fastened by metal clips. The pan has been used but would have been washed and tarred at the Sanitary Depot since its last use.


No marks



370 mm


430 mm


353 mm





The pan was 'souvenired' by the donor in around 1962, not long before his neighbourhood was sewered, by his recollection. According to the notes provided by the Local Studies Librarian at the Randwick City Library, the Sanitary Service was provided to some areas of Randwick Municipality until around 1969.



This sanitary pan was collected as a 'souvenir' by the donor shortly before the sewer was connected to his neighbourhood in Matraville. This took place, by his recollection, in 1962. Knowing that the sanitary service was shortly to be discontinued, the donor asked one of the carters to leave a spare empty can for him. He kept it in a shed in his back yard until giving to the Powerhouse Museum in 1997.

The donor was born in 1931 and brought up 'near the Matraville Hotel'. After he married in 1954 he and his wife built a temporary dwelling at his address in Blaxland Street and 5 to 6 years later they built the house that he has continued to live in to the present. Before the sewer was connected in 1962, there was a toilet 'up the back yard'. Each week the sewage cartage company would collect the full sanitary can and leave an empty one in its place. By the donor's recollection, the company that had the contract to collect sewage was Deakin (?spelling) & Howes.

The cans were loaded and unloaded from a truck 'with little doors on both sides' that came round the streets. The cans were emptied directly into Sydney's main Southern and Western Suburbs sewerage line at what the donor refers to as the Malabar Sewage Depot, approximately half a kilometre from his home [possibly the Matraville Sanitary Depot, MH]. The 'Sewage Depot' on the corner of Kain Avenue and Finucane Crescent, according to the donor, is still distinguished by a landmark known by him as 'The stink pipe'.

'The night cart' and the men who worked on it were known by a number of epithets - 'The dunny man' and 'The dunny cart' and, in coarse talk (as the donor calls it), 'The shit cart'. Because the men who collected the night soil used to drink there, the Botany Bay Hotel was known for many years by the locals as 'The Shitcarters Arms'.


Credit Line

Gift of Mr John Scullion, 2000

Acquisition Date

14 February 2000

Cite this Object


Metal sanitary pan 2019, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 31 May 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Metal sanitary pan |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=31 May 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in Collection Gallery 5 at the Museums Discovery Centre.

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