Happy 125th birthday to the first toilet flush!

We all take it for granted, but this week marks 125 years since the first toilet flush in Melbourne!

We all take it for granted, but this week marks 125 years since the first toilet flush in Melbourne!

Melbourne Water has got to the bottom of this significant moment in history. The first property connected to the city’s sewerage system was on the corner of Princes and Rouse Streets in Port Melbourne. It was the site of the All England XI Hotel, which no longer exists.

Melbourne Water Managing Director Nerina Di Lorenzo said the first flush in 1897 triggered the beginning of a much more sanitary existence for Melburnians.

“Melbourne had been dubbed Smellbourne for a good reason. It had a major issue with waste, which caused disease, death and pollution,” Di Lorenzo said.

“Many households emptied sewage into open drains that flowed into streets and onto local rivers and creeks. The city’s infrastructure could not keep up with the needs of a booming population.”

A Royal Commission sought a solution to the stench to protect public health and the environment. The Metropolitan Melbourne Board of Works was established to design, construct and run a sewerage system. By 1910, more than 105,000 homes in Melbourne were connected to it.

Development from the first toilet flush

More than a century later, Melbourne’s population continues to grow. We face new challenges, including climate change and the changing urban environment. But just like those original visionaries, Melbourne Water continues to innovate.

“We have a world-class sewerage system that constantly evolves to ensure Melburnians have a safe, clean and healthy environment essential to our way of life today, tomorrow, and for generations to come,” Dr Di Lorenzo said.

“On top of that, our treatment plants in Werribee and Bangholme are at the forefront of a shift towards a circular economy. They process around 90 per cent of our sewage and turn Melbourne’s waste into recycled water, nutrients, and energy ready for reuse.

“Our wastewater is also significant in detecting disease in the community, most recently COVID-19.”

Thanks to the Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society, history buffs can visit the location of the first flush and find a plaque commemorating the significance of the site mounted on the front wall of the current apartment building.

And remember, when you flush today, only flush the three P’s – poo, pee and (toilet) paper to avoid blockages. Items like disposable nappies, wipes, sanitary products and, more recently, face masks should go in the bin, not down the bowl.

Vision – Can you flush it?

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