This image, one of many documenting Sydney in 1936 which were taken by an unknown photographer, is an extraordinary piece of photographic work. The image is dominated by the repetitive houses, chimneys and backyards, each almost identical to the one before. In the alley behind a couple of dogs can be seen, while a woman is captured chatting with her neighbour, who is almost hidden from view, other than her arm and part of her dress. It is a scene which would have been repeated throughout Sydney, and in other built up areas of Australia.
The photo also captures a piece of Australian heritage which is fast disappearing. The image, showing the rear of terrace houses in Glebe, captures not only the row of chimneys which the photographer notes, but also the row of outhouses, or as Australians tend to refer to them, dunnys.
A dunny is an outdoor toilet, situated at the rear of the property. In the 19th and well into the 20th century Australian toilets were situated outside, away from the house. They were often a can or pit, and were probably very smelly, which may account for their relative distance from the house! The lane behind the houses, where the women are talking, would have been a ‘dunny lane’, built to allow the nightsoil collecter or dunnyman to collect the used can, remove and replace it. As the 20th century progressed and indoor plumbing became the norm, many of these old outhouses were demolished. In fact, so many have disappeared that those that remain have sometimes had heritage orders imposed to prevent these important parts of our architectural and cultural heritage disappearing entirely.