Elizabeth Jordan’s suburban Ebbw Vale backyard is flush with history.
The 106-year-old is the proud owner of an outhouse – an Aussie icon for decades that is now on the brink of extinction.
It was uncovered as part of The Great Backyard Dunny Search, which water provider Queensland Urban Utilities started in a bid to preserve the nation’s last remaining thunderboxes before they disappear.
Ms Jordan said the outhouse dated back to 1936 when she and late husband Joseph built their home.
“We used to have it closer to the house but after we stopped using it we moved it right up the back of the yard,” she said.
“We stopped using it in about the 1970s and for a long time I used to store tools and bags of manure for the garden in it.
“I don’t do as much gardening now, so it hasn’t been used for the last number of years.”
Ms Jordan said she never thought of the outhouse as anything special but her grandchildren were always fascinated by it.
“It was just a thing that people had. It was a novelty to the grandchildren when they would come to stay, they always laughed about the toilet being outside,” she said.
Outhouses slowly began to disappear as suburbs became sewered. Before that, a trip to the loo meant braving the elements and warding off creepy crawlies.
Backyard dunnies were emptied by night soil men using horse-drawn carts – and later trucks – to collect and empty the waste bucket from each household’s toilet.
The change from outhouses to indoor toilets is just one of many advances the sprightly centenarian has witnessed in her life.
Ms Jordan has raised a family and lived through the Depression and World War II.
She has seen the ebb and flow of Ebbw Vale from the days when mining was big in the community to current day. She puts her longevity down to remaining active in the community.
“I do bocce and bowls each week. I started bowls because my husband was a good bowler and the women used to bring refreshments for the men, then we thought why not have a women’s competition, so we started playing,” she said.
“I still enjoy knitting and enter in the Ipswich Show, Gatton Show and Rosewood Show each year.
“It keeps you active so you don’t just sit at home, which I think is very important.”
Ms Jordan is a former Ipswich Senior Citizen of the Year and also has the unique honour of being Jetstar’s oldest passenger when she took a flight, aged 103, to visit family in Melbourne.
The one with in the wedding photos
Shirley and Gary Phie will never forget the day they wed, or the outhouse in the back of their wedding photos. The couple were the only people to submit a wedding photo as part of The Great Backyard Dunny Search. They wed 50 years ago at Bundamba, Shirley 17 and Gary 19. The pair said they were “just kids living the dream, looking forward to everything”. The couple, who now call Bundaberg home but still visit Ipswich, are still going strong and renewed their vows on 9 December 2017 at their daughter’s farm.
The one that became a cook house
Most outhouses that have survived the test of time have since been given a renewed purpose. Tivoli man Brian Munt transformed the one on his property at Brassall into a cook house. It was originally built about 1915 before being moved under the house when the area was sewered. Brian dismantled the dunny and moved it back into the yard. At Christmas time, Brian cooked turkey on the wooden stove.
The one with the wildlife
When humans move out, nature moves in. Possums, bandicoots and scrub turkeys are the main users of this outhouse at Marburg. It was the only toilet for generations at the Queenslander home it accompanies, which was built in 1907. When Julie Daniel bought the house, she renovated and installed a flushing toilet. Before then, a kerosene lamp was lit nightly for pit stops and the house rule was everyone must go before 11pm, when the lamp would go out. Julie sold the house in December.
‘Looseum’ preserves outhouse history
Queensland Urban Utilities is setting up Australia’s first ‘Looseum’ to pay homage to the backyard dunny. The ‘Looseum’ will be a one of a kind mini-museum at our Luggage Point Innovation Centre, featuring outdoor dunnies which have been rescued and restored to their former glory. It will also include photos gathered through The Great Backyard Dunny Search, stories and memories of the humble backyard dunny.