The long drop: Australia's outback dunnies

The long drop: Australia's outback dunnies

When plumbing is but a pipe dream, it's time to dig a pit and build yourself an outhouse
Australia's Outback dunnies
When you've gotta go in the outback, it's the blistering desert or one of Australia's finest traditions -- the dunny.

"They were funny-looking buildings, that were once a way of life,

If you couldn't sprint the distance, then you really were in strife.

They were nailed, they were wired, but were mostly falling down,

There was one in every yard, in every house, in every town.

They were given many names, some were even funny,

But to most of us, we knew them as the outhouse or the dunny."

-- Anonymous

The outhouse, the thunder box, the long drop, the biffy and the kybo. Most cultures around the world have some version of a toilet separated from main buildings and in Australia it’s called the dunny.

The basic design of the dunny is a hole in the ground beneath a bench with a circle cut out of it, or even a regular toilet seat, for parking the appropriate part of your anatomy.

Those that survive today are an integral part of Aussie culture and some are even tourist attractions -- although that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d want to use one.

Painted, decorated or simply abandoned, here are some dunnies still making their presence felt, and smelt, around the country.

The Leaning Dunny, Silverton, New South Wales

Australia's Outback dunniesThe Leaning Dunny comes with its own art gallery -- not many toilets can say the same, we reckon.

John Dynon clearly wants people to “drop in” when they visit Silverton, although he’d probably be as happy they come to the front door for his gallery as the back for this excellent example of a traditional dunny.

Dynon is part of Silverton’s thriving art scene and runs the Silverton Outback Art Gallery, filled with paintings capturing the incredible local landscapes.

This former gold-mining town 25 kilometers from Broken Hill has featured in commercials, television shows and such classic movies as “Mission: Impossible II,” “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and “Mad Max 2.”

While the 130-year-old town is a far cry now from the days when 3,000 people bustled around, the 60-odd residents and the trade from tourism and film have resurrected life here, and no doubt the odd use of the dunny too.

Getting there: 25 kilometers northwest of Broken Hill, along the Silverton Road; map

19 Stirling St., Silverton, New South Wales; www.silverton.org.au

Bloke’s and Shiela’s, Curtin Springs, Northern Territory

Australia's Outback dunniesThe deadly aberrant apostrophe strikes again at Bloke's and Shiela's.

Curtin Springs station is one of the last pit stops before Uluru.

Discerning travelers usually decipher the Australian colloquialisms pretty quickly, but if they don’t realize sheilas are women and blokes are men there’s always the trial-and-error approach.

The names “bloke” and “sheila" (the correct spelling) are thought to be linked to the country’s Irish past.

Bloke may have come from a language spoken by travelling Irish salesman who, in turn, may have taken the word from Romany.

A sheila or shela/sheelagh could either be an Irish name or a figurative carving often used in Ireland over windows and doors to ward off death and evil -- perhaps not inappropriate for the state of some of Australia’s dunnies.

Getting there: Located on the Lasseter Highway, 85 kilometers east of the entrance to Uluru; map

Curtin Springs Station, Lasseter Highway, Northern Territory; www.curtinsprings.com

Toilet For Freeloading Customers, Kynuna, Queensland

Australia's Outback dunniesHe's doing it wrong.

If you’ve driven this far out along the Matilda Highway you’ll be glad to find any available toilet.

While this dunny might not offer much in the way of privacy or plumbing, it’s a good excuse for those wishing to off-load out of the car and have a laugh.

This dunny is located near one of the state’s most iconic pubs, The Blue Heeler, which was first established in 1889 as the Kynuna Hotel and used by travelers on the Cobb & Co coach route.

Getting there: Located in northwest Queensland, 164 kilometers southeast of Mount Isa, 344 kilometers northwest of Longreach; map

Matilda Highway, Kynuna.

Mungerannie Dunny, South Australia

Australia's Outback dunniesMungerannie’s big ugly face looks all right to us.

“Mungerannie” is an Aboriginal word meaning “big, ugly face” and that might be the face you pull when you see these facilities.

If there were ever a place you might run into something sinister, it’s this drop on the edge of the Sturt Stony, Tirari, Simpson and Strzelecki deserts.

Still, you’re at least guaranteed a queue-free experience, as the only other potential customers will be patrons of the Mungerannie Hotel on the remote Birdsville Track.

And deadly redback spiders.

The hotel was first developed, along with a store and eating house, to provide for drovers, travellers and station people in 1886, when these dunnies were commonplace.

If you don’t fancy the Mungerannie dunny, make sure you use the hotel’s facilities, as the nearest alternatives are 210 kilometers away in Maree.

Getting there: 301 kilometers south of Birdsville, 210 kilometers north of Maree on the Birdsville Track; map

Mungerannie Hotel, via Port Augusta, Birdsville Track, South Australia; www.mungeranniehotel.com.au

More on CNNGo: Australia’s biggest tourist traps

Zanci Homestead Outhouse, Mungo National Park, New South Wales

Australia's Outback dunniesDrop by Zanci and you might even find out what spinifex is.

This remote outhouse in the stunning Mungo National Park has stood the test of time and the elements to await visitors at the end of a 10-kilometer walking and cycling route from the park headquarters.

The Zanci homestead was built about 1925 and operated as a sheep station prior to becoming a National Park. The Zanci station in itself was once part of the Gol Gol run, dating back to the 1860s.

While the homestead itself no longer stands, many of the old buildings remain, such as the woolshed, shearers’ quarters, an old dugout built to escape the heat of summer, the Zanci stables with log walls and spinifex thatch, and of course the dunny.

All provide a unique glimpse into the pastoral life of the time, but the area where the dunny stands was also once home to even more ancient cultures.

Mungo has a rich Aboriginal heritage and recent finds have dated their presence here to some 50,000 years ago, making the dunny and its neighbors seem but recent visitors.

Getting there: 876 kilometers west of Sydney via the Sturt Highway. Take the Silver City Highway from Buronga and follow signs on the Arumpo Road to the park (110 kilometers). The Zanci homestead is accessed by the Zanci Pastoral Heritage Loop; map

Mungo National Park, Arumpo Road, Balranald Shire, New South Wales; www.visitmungo.com.au

Bob’s Bush Loo, Murphys Creek, Queensland

Australia's Outback dunniesYou just know Bob's a solid bloke who clearly appreciates the simple things in life.

Although a modern addition to the do-it-yourself dunny hall of fame, this dunny was washed away in the horrific 2011 Queensland floods -- fortunately, with no one inside at the time.

A replacement has been constructed on the property recently, but the restored previous incarnation remains the most charming, featuring a regular toilet seat atop a corrugated base over a long pit.

The washbasin is of the same ilk, with a jerry can over a traditional basin that free-flows into a waiting bucket below.

In keeping with the rustic surrounds, you get to look out over native bushland while conducting your business.

Getting there: Turn off onto Murphys Creek Road after Helidon, 120 kilometers from Brisbane on the Warrego Highway; map

Fettlers' Cottage, Ewaninga, Northern Territory

Australia's Outback dunniesTime to get the fettlers in again ...

“We apologize for the temporary closure of these toilets, which are undergoing repairs caused by Bloody Vandals. Ghan Society,” reads the sign on the door.

While the future of this dunny remains uncertain, the fact there’s even a non-functioning toilet in a place as remote as this deserves acclaim.

The dunny is part of the Old Ghan Railway that bisected the country north to south. The cottage was constructed in 1929 to house fettlers, or repairmen, who maintained the siding 40 kilometers south of Alice Springs.

The modern-day vandals, perhaps the same ones that set the place on fire in 1985, could easily be punished for damaging a vital part of Australia’s history by going on dunny duties -- cleaning said facility for visitors once it’s fixed up.

Getting there: Take the Stuart Highway south of Alice Springs and turn onto Santa Teresa Road toward the airport, then right onto Maryvale Road; map

Closed Dunny, Cape York, Queensland

Australia's Outback dunniesAn ant infestation can close a dunny on the Cape.

Although a recent addition to dunny history, dating back to circa 1996, this dunny was a useful part of the Moreton Telegraph Station when tourism developed and simply using the natural “facilities” was no longer an option.

Recently, nature had the last word when green ants moved in and accosted people during rather private moments -- up on the Cape, an infestation can close a dunny.

Even so, it remains standing today, permanently closed but watching over the area like an immobile sentinel.

Getting there: 750 kilometers north of Cairns and 130 kilometers east of Weipa via the Peninsula Development Road; map

Moreton Telegraph Station, Wenlock River, Cape York, Queensland; www.moretonstation.com.au

More on CNNGo: The best outback pub hotels

Joanne Lane is an Australian freelance photojournalist based in Brisbane. 

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