In the 1880s, ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ was outwardly one of the wealthiest cities in the world. The truth was that it was facing a disaster of its own making: extreme pollution of water and air, poor infrastructure, high mortality, hidden poverty, and the great crash of 1893. Many jeering referred to the City as ‘Marvellous Smellboom’. With no taxation, medicare, pensions, workcover or benefits, many citizens fell between the cracks to become hawkers, buskers, street workers and residents of Little Lon and Little Bourke. But the lowest class was probably the nightsoil workers.
This is the world we enter, just seeking to make an honest wage as the lowly sanitation worker or Dunnyman. We follow the 1880s routes of the dunnycarts competing in teams to recognise and find the ancient infrastructure of the city.
“You have applied to join a Dunny’ (Sanitation) Crew in 1884. After training in the Dunny arts and skills, you will compete to locate dunnies through the ancient infrastructure of Melbourne’s historic lanes. Successful members will graduate with a Dunny License and a great career. This is Melbourne as you have never seen it before: industrial signage, factories, warehouses, stables, pipes, underworld portholes, bluestone, sanitation traps, hydraulic plates, timber guards, horse troughs and outhouses. “
Where we go: About 20-30 lanes starting at Flinders Lane via Desgraves and Manchester Lanes, north to the former Coles Book Arcade and the Bourke Street Mall, then east into the myriad back lanes of Chinatown towards Exhibition Street.
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‘Congratulations. Your application for a trainee as a member of a newly formed sanitation crew, servicing the lanes of Marvellous Smellboom’ in 1884, has been accepted.
To gain your full licence, you must be one of the elite few that pass our training session today . But don’t’ despair! We provide you with expert training in both dangers and dunnyskills. Pay close attention. Some of you will graduate today with a real dunnymans licence and a fabulous career. Others will fail.
The first hour we train in Toffsville the wealthy fashion and shopping district. In the second hour we move to Slumsville or Little Lon and Chinatown and put your training into practice. You will be tested. You will also be trained to recognise the other outcasts working the streets. We need them badly. They provide us with our day jobs. We share the lanes with them. Their carts provide us with food, light and heat.
You will work in two competing teams each with your own foreperson. There is the Number Ones Team and Number Twos team. Your mission is to count dunny traps, dunny pipes and outhouses. The winning team will have the highest score. The lane system is growing rapidly and the last crew was sacked for missing too many dunnies.
Do not miss any. Don’t get lost.Do not fail. Remember you have eleven hungry bairns at home! So up with your cans and on with your shift.’
Further Reading about Melbourne’s history