Ok I just want to say that this was not my idea. After a nice hectic school holiday week I asked the girls what topic they would like to know more about, and the answer was sewerage. Now I remember being a little tyke and my uncle saying to me “If every person in Toowoomba flushed their dunny at the same time, Gowrie Creek would be in flood”. So with nothing else to go on I thought I’d see what sort of strange tales I could dig up to satisfy the curiosity of my co-workers.
The Gowrie Creek was once part of “The Swamp” (Toowoomba), and is the largest of Toowoomba City’s urban creeks. The creek traverses many of Toowoomba’s suburbs, including the CBD, and feeds into the Murray-Darling system via the Oakey Creek. The water in Oakey Creek and Gowrie Creek contains treated waste water from the Wetella Treatment Plant in Toowoomba City as well as stormwater that comes from the city streets and surrounding farmland.
It hasn’t always worked out well, as several times in the past there have been reported issues with the water quality of the Gowrie-Oakey Creek due to the effluent from a number of industries as well as secondary treated sewerage from Toowoomba City being released (or washed into) the waterway. In 1991 the world’s largest toxic algal bloom occurred in the Darling River, with the Wetalla Wastewater Treatment Plant identified as the largest contributor of nutrients to the Darling River System. Consequently the Council developed a sewerage strategy to prevent a reoccurrence.
One of the earliest mentions of a sewerage scheme for Toowoomba City was from 1912. The lack of sanitation in Toowoomba became an issue as the prevalent use of “earth closets”, of which many were in poor condition, and the reoccurring outbreaks of Typhoid Fever each year demanded that a more permanent solution be found. One historical monument to early Toowoomba Sanitation still stands and that is the Russell Street urinal. The urinal was built in 1919 and is situated in Russell Street opposite the railway yard. Originally the urinal stalls were connected to the nearby drain and the closet was cleaned by a pan changing service, until it was connected to the sewerage system in 1926.
The Russell Street urinal served as a model of how a full sanitary service could be provided in an open public place; and when it was seen to be successful, calls were made to extend the service to women. But the calls were not heeded, and even when a sewerage service was fully operational in the second half of the 1920s, the Council provided no toilets for women. Women had to take the issue up themselves. In 1931 the Country Women’s Association lobbied the Toowoomba City Council for provision of lavatory accommodation for women and children. The Council did nothing and the women had to provide for themselves by opening the CWA Rest Rooms in Margaret Street in 1931 (Qld Heritage Registry, 2015).
Interestingly enough, the steady flow of water down the Gowrie Creek system was a blessing in the middle of the drought in the mid 2000s as while the region was under severe water restrictions and there was no end to the drought in sight, farmers along Gowrie Creek had the distinct advantage of having a supply of water throughout most of the drought period (Toowoomba Regional Council sold the water rights to New Hope Acland Coal Mine approximately two years before the drought ended).
Hope you’ve enjoyed our trip up the stream, that’s all I got for you this week I’ll see you all next time.