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CHARLES MONTEATH & SONS PUBLIC URINALS, MELBOURNE

The advertising cover was for "The Chief Flushing Cistern", approved by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. 250,000 in Use. The red 1½d KGV Head stamp was cancelled with a roller postmark MELBOURNE/ 4.30 AM/ 20 APR/ 1928/ VICTORIA with the slogan COM’LTH ROLL/ CORRECT ENROLLMENT/ COMPULSORY. It was addressed to Messr W & L Gordon , Merchants, Essendon (Figure 1).

The reverse had on the flap Monteath & Sons/ Pty Ltd/ Cast Iron Pipe Makers/ South Melbourne (Figure 2).

Growing awareness of the European vogue for public toilets, coupled with the opening of the Yan Yean water supply, led to a urinal being erected in 1859 by the Melbourne City Council (MCC) on the pavement in Bourke Street near Elizabeth Street. Though often criticised by adjacent city businesses as visual eyesores and affronts to respectability, public toilets were increasingly made available throughout the city to overcome the nuisances committed in back lanes and parks. The completion of the underground sewerage system led to the opening in 1902 of the first underground toilet at the corner of Russell and Bourke streets. While limited sanitary accommodation had been available to women at railway stations and some shops, this structure was the first to have a female compartment and was an outcome of strenuous petitioning from female citizens and women's groups, including the Women's Medical Society and the Women's Political Association of Victoria.

By 1916 city conveniences included seven underground paying toilets, 28 street urinal stalls, and urinals and water-closets at the wharves, abattoirs, markets, Melbourne Town Hall, Viaduct Buildings, Princes Walk and in various parks. Melbourne's historic 1902 toilet has been decommissioned and, though capped and crowned with a public sculpture, remains substantially intact underground. A handful of extant above-ground cast-iron urinals are the remnant of about 40 structures erected between about 1903 and 1918. Cast by C. Monteath & Sons, ironfounders of South Melbourne, they employed a prefabricated interlocking post-and-panel system. As collections of national significance, the cast-iron and underground toilets are classified by the National Trust.

A 1997 MCC review of public toilet provision led to further decommissioning of some of the historic collection, replaced by modern constructions with unisex and disabled access, to a design compatible with the existing street furniture. The oldest functioning public toilet is now the 1905 men's underground facility at the intersection of Queen and Collins streets. This urinal and associated cast-iron cisterns were used by workers at the Phoenix Clothing Factory in Phoenix Lane, off King Street, West Melbourne. The urinal cistern was made by C. Monteath & Sons in South Melbourne, a major contractor to the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) for many years. The ‘Chief’ brand-name was used by the firm, established in the early 1890s by Chas Monteath and his sons Charles, John, William and Claude. Monteath copied the ‘Chief’ cast-iron gravity cistern from overseas designs such as the Shanks & Co ‘Levern’ model. Based at Barrhead in Scotland, Shanks was a major international manufacturer of bathroom and plumbing supplies - their 1899 product catalogue had some 470 pages. The cistern urinal was imprinted with C. MONTEATH & SONS/ THE CHIEF/ PATENT/ SOUTH MELBOURNE (Figure 3).

The installation of the toilet and urinal at the Phoenix Clothing Factory in around 1900 coincided with the connection of the city to the sewerage system and illustrates the mixture of local and imported sanitary equipment obtained by the MMBW for Melbourne’s new sewerage system. The Phoenix Clothing Factory remained in business until the 1930s. Museum Victoria obtained this urinal and cistern from the site in 1997 when the building was refurbished.

I can well remember that the future (Sir) Edward Ford giving a lecture on Public Health at the University of Sydney Medical School, in his droll style saying the following quip to a late arrival student:  "Thank you for coming, we are discussing urinary cisterns, a fascinating subject!"

 
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