Long uniform rows of outhouses, such as these in Glebe are a distinctive feature of parts of inner Sydney and are subject to heritage controls.

An outhouse (also known as a “dunny”, “thunderbox” or “shithouse”) is an unsung but important reflection on life in Australian terraces houses. The outhouse was essentially an outbuilding toilet. Many Australian cities in the Victorian era lacked sanitary infrastructure such as sewerage systems and in many areas, waste was collected by local councils. In other areas where sewerage systems were installed it was still considered unsavoury for the outhouse to be placed near the kitchen which was often also an outbuilding. These factors greatly influenced the placement and design of outhouse structures. Standalone outhouses were typically a simple gabled or skillion roofed structure of timber of brick with a single door and were mostly situated near the rear fence of the property or along rear access laneways for night soil collection. In terraced homes, like the symmetrical fronts they were often arranged in rows.

In inner Sydney suburbs like Paddington and Glebe with their long uniform and repetitive terrace rows (pictured), the outhouse became a pervasive feature of the laneway streetscapes.  Some were decorated with finials and other such dressings.  As such local heritage controls often prevent their demolition, despite often not suitable for today’s use.  As such, many residents have adaptively reused them for storage.    Quite often in these areas they are promoted by real estate agents as complementing the period features of the terrace.  Outside of Sydney, however the outhouse is endangered species, particularly in Melbourne and it is usually one of the last parts of a terrace to survive a renovation or modernisation project.

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