The Bulli Dunny Man

The Bulli Shire Council sanitary cart C.1912.

The Bulli Shire Council sanitary cart C.1912.


BULLI’S first dunny-man, William Capon, came to an untimely death at the hands of his own sanitary cart.

A pioneer in the Illawarra’s Labour movement, it’s ironic his widow had to fight his employer, Bulli Shire Council for compensation after his death in 1914.

Bulli’s sanitary requirements prior to the formation of the shire council in 1907 were much to be desired. For those that could afford a pan, private contractors could be employed to collect sewerage and dispose of human waste in large trenches dug on private properties, in most cases away from residential areas. Otherwise, most working class people would simply make do with a ‘thunder box’ placed over deep holes dug in the ground in a backyard outhouse.

One of the first challenges for the newly formed Bulli Shire Council was addressing unhealthy sanitary conditions. The council decided in December 1907 to apply to the NSW Government to have the Shire declared an urban area so it could take control, under legislation, of the disposal of nightsoil.

There had been reports of nightsoil being dumped on Thirroul beach, and near the recently established water catchment area near Helensburgh, causing health fears. The Illawarra Mercury reported on March 20 1908 that nightsoil was being dumped “at the rear of Mr. Farrell’s slaughter yard, and in the immediate vicinity of the Bulli baths, which made matters worse”.

“It was time the council went into the matter of providing a proper place to deposit nightsoil. He [Bulli Shire president] was of opinion that tenders should be called for the purchase of about three acres of land where a depot could be established. By the time negotiations had been completed he was sure that portions of the shire would be proclaimed an urban area, and the council would have control of the sanitary working. The matter was referred to the sanitary committee and engineer with power to call for tenders for the purchase of land for a depot.”

Two Woonona sites were short listed for the depot – one at the end of Campbell Street, known as Pritchard’s Farm, and another at the end of Ocean Street, just south of Bulli Cemetery.

The Bulli Shire sanitary inspector, T. Hiles, submitted a report on a house to house sanitary pan collection system for the southern area of the shire. The Illawarra Mercury reported on October 1909 that the area commenced at the foot of Bulli Pass and embraced the properties on the eastern side of the Main South Coast Road (Today’s Princes Highway) to the southern boundary of the shire at Bellambi Lane. About 750 houses were within the boundaries, which were occupied by 4,600 inhabitants.

There would be a weekly service of 800 pans required. The initial expenses in connection with the starting of the system would be about £740, and the working expenses for the year would be £824. The estimated annual revenue for 800 services at £1 6s per annum would be £1040. Council adopted Hiles’ report and the Ocean Street site was chosen.

The Bulli Council decided to divide the shire into three areas in November 1909,with a depot for Helensburgh, Coledale, and Woonona. Councillors agreed on a six pence collection fee for each pan for the first year, and if a profit was made the fee could be lowered.

The depot for the southern division was built on a 100ft reservation above the high water at the foot of Ocean-street, Woonona. Ocean Park’s soccer feilds are now on the site.

A rubbish tip would also be established at the Woonona site, as well as at the Helensburgh sanitary depot. However, problems negotiating a lease of the land prevented the Woonona depot opening.

The first sanitary depot opened in Helensburgh in September 1910, with the second opening at Coledale three months later. The Woonona depot opened the following year with Messrs. T. Jones, William Capon, and Wyegold appointed ‘daymen’ for the southern sanitary service. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday September 30 1910:

BULLI-WOONONA. On Saturday last the Shire council accepted the invention of the President (Cr. Spiller) to attend the official opening of the new sanitary depot at Helensburgh. It may be mentioned that the Bulli Shire Council has inaugurated the largest sanitary system of any council in this State. There are three depots, viz., at Coledale, Woonona, and Helensburgh. The two former are not yet complete. Heavy expenditure has been met by the firm which undertook to construct the depots and find the whole of the plant, including seven carts. The council has undertaken to work the plant and to repay the money in annual instalments. The Helensburgh depot’ is situated in an area of eleven   acres set aside for the purpose, and comprises a large roomy building with concrete floor, and fitted with all necessary machinery and steam installation. A windmill supplies water from an underground well. The sewerage refuse will be ploughed into the soil. The rate for the time being will be 6d per pan per week, but it is consistently expected that this charge will   be reduced as the plant is paid for. After inspecting the plant Cr. Youll expressed his gratification at the success attained, and congratulated the inspector (Mr. Hiles) upon the way in which he superintended the construction. Some idea of the magnitude of the service may be guined when it is mentioned that something like 2400 pans will be in use. The clerical labor involved in handling this business will be immense.

Meanwhile William Capon, who was living in Woonona with his wife and children, had become the Shire’s most experienced “dayman’, who not only collected the pans from Bulli’s homes, but was also able to keep the booksat the largest of the three sanitary depots. He began work at the Woonona depot at the age of 47.

Capon had held executive positions on the committee of the Woonona Labor League and his experience in that regard placed him in the perfect position to represent workers at the depot when negotiating wages and conditions. The Mercury reported in September 1911 that Capon, “on behalf of the sanitary employers, asked the council to hear a deputation from the employers on important business at an early date”.

The Mercury reported in January 1913, that Capon wrote a letter to the Shire president, complaining that he had received no reply from the sanitary inspector, T. Hiles regarding his claim for three weeks’ overtime.

“In a report the inspector stated that in accordance with the terms of the approved circulars he was unable to verify to the claim of overtime. But in consideration of the past good services of the men and the willing manner in which they had carried out the exceptional rush of pans during the holidays, he thought it would be an act of grace to pay the amounts claimed without prejudice. The report was adopted. The amount of the claim was £2 1s 4d.”

Bulli Shire had one of the most efficient sanitary depots in the region at this time. It was envy of surrounding councils. Nearby Wollongong and North Illawarra councils often sent deputations to inspect and gather advice from Bulli on its sanitary depots’ operations. The Illawarra Mercury reported on August 15 1913:

SANITARY INSPECTOR’S REPORT. A lengthy report was submitted on the question of reduction .in working expenses in connection with sanitary service. It was recommended that tenders be called for shoeing horses, supply of forage, general repairs, fire wood, and disinfectants. As a justification for an increase in the cost of collecting it was pointed out that since 1st September, 1911, the service had been increased by the erection of new buildings, which meant an in crease of 130 pans per week, and by extras at hotels, etc., to the extent of 33 pans, totalling altogether 170 pans in a little under two years. It was suggested that tenders be called for carrying out the work by contract making provision for four men, three carts and horses. The report was dealt with in conjunction with the health committee’s report.

The following year, Capon, Bulli’s first ‘dunny-man’, or ‘dayman’ was tragically killed in an accident on the main road at Woonona. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday April 3 1914:

A sad fatality occurred at Woonona on Wednesday morning, whereby Mr. W. H. Capon, aged 50 years, an old and highly respected resident lost his life. The deceased was engaged on one of the Shire Council’s sanitary carts, and was proceeding to do his work when the back band of the harness broke, and the shafts of the cart going on to the street, threw Mr. Capon out on to the side of his head, the wheel of the cart passing over his chest. He was picked up by Mr. Goble and carried into Evans’ shop. Dr. Palmer arrived shortly after, and death occurred about twenty minutes afterwards. The remains were then conveyed to deceased’s late home. The deceased had resided at Woonona for a great many years and was secretary of the Bulli Rifle Club, and was one of the club’s best shots, and at the time of his death was leading in the shoot for the gold medal. A wife and grown-up family are left to mourn their loss. Deceased was a brother of Mr. Harry Capon, of Keiraville. An inquest was held by the Coroner (Mr. A. Elliott) on Wednesday afternoon, when, a verdict of accidental death was recorded. The funeral took place yesterday afternoon, and was largely attended, the interment being in the Church of England cemetery.

The Bulli Shire Council sent a letter of sympathy to Amy Capon, his widow, but not surprisingly she wanted more than sympathy and she requested compensation. The Council sought legal advice after Mrs Capon asked if she was entitled to claim under the Workmen’s Compensation Act. In June 1914 Council decided to pay Mrs Capon 10 shillings per week for three years. Councillors adopted the recommendation with an amendment that the term be extended to four years.

The Coroner (Mr. A. Elliott) conducted an inquest at the Court House, Bulli, on Wednesday, touching the death of William Henry Capon. Dr. Palmer’s evidence was to the effect that deceased was suffering from severe internal haemorrhage from which he died. Amy Capon, widow of deceased, deposed he was 50 years of age, and left five children. His life was not insured. David Goble deposed that whilst he was walking along towards Bulli on the Main South Coast-road, he saw the deceased driving a sanitary cart. After passing the cart, witness heard the rattle of cans and on turning round saw the shafts of the cart falling to the ground as if the back band or tugs were broken. He saw the deceased fall from the cart. He appeared to turn a somersault and fall sideways on his face, and then roll under the cart on his back, the wheels passing over both his arms and chest. When witness picked deceased up he said, “oh, my God, I am killed.” Deceased was smoking when witness first passed him, and when picked up he still had the pipe in his mouth. A verdict was returned that deceased was accidentally killed through falling from a cart in consequence of some portion of his harness breaking.
– Illawarra Friday 3 April 1914.

Mrs Capon was not satisfied. She thanked the Council for “practical sympathy extended to her”, but questioned the stipulation that the amount can only be paid on her undertaking to sign a document relieving the Council of any responsibility or liability. The Mercury reported:

“She trusted, therefore, that she would be permitted to accept the compensation unconditionally. The President [Cr. J. Davidson] said this letter cancelled the Council’s decision to pay, and he would oppose any payment until such document was supplied. The Clerk was instructed to inform Mrs Capon that the conditions submitted were the only ones upon which the Council would pay compensation.”

The following month Mrs Capon wrote that she would sign the documents.

Almost 10 years after Capon’s death, the Bulli Shire Council considered replacing their old sanitary carts and team of horses with a Vulcan motor truck. The Illawarra Mercury reported on Friday May 9 1924:

Bulli Sanitary Service.


Health Inspector J. J. Hiles is a keen officer, and is always ready to take a voyage on the “sea of progress”. At Bulli Shire Council meeting on Monday he accused Councillors to sit up and take notice when he appealed to the Council for urgent attention to a suggestion by him that a Vul-can two-ton chassih, equipped with ap-propriate body, esimated to cost £800, be purchased by the Council to improve the service. The lorry would carry 80 pans, and two carts could convey them from the streets to the lorry on the road, but of course there were streets also that the lorry would be able to traverse. Cr. Southern expressed his opinion in favour of a smaller lorry first for ex-perimental purposes. Cr. Burrows was anxious to know if the lorry would mean any increase in the cost of service, and the Inspector was not able to assure him that such would be the case. Cr. Tuckerman agreed with Cr. Southern. We are handling the rate-payers’ money, he said, and should be careful. President McNaughton said valued opinions expressed to him always recommended lighter vehicles. He appeared to agree that motor lorry ser-vice was fast becoming essential, and emphasised the necessity for an expeditious service. He thought one lorry would not cope with the work entailed in collecting in the two areas and con-veying to the two depots. He favoured two small lorries — one each for the two sections. However, Councillors would not com-mit themselves to a decision, and the discussion ended with a motion by Crs. Southern and Tuckerman “That the matter remain in abeyance until next meeting.”


The Illawarra Mercury again reported on Hiles’ plan to replace the old horse and carts with a motor lorry on  July 4 1924:

In a lengthy report on the innovation the Inspector [T. J. Hiles] presented very convincing information. A lorry with a carrying capacity of 80 pans would cost £675 for chassis and £125 for the body and the latter could be constructed locally. Standing and running charges, such as interest, depreciation, petrol, repairs, etc., were estimated at about £350. In his opinion the actual saving by substituting the motor for four horses and carts would be about £90. He had carefully investigated all makes of lorry, but was definite in his opinion that the Vulcan was the one for the job. A smaller vehicle had also been considered, but he could not report in its favour. Cr. Southern at once moved: “That Council purchase a 2½ ton Vulcan motor lorry.” 

This was the first motorised sanitary wagon in the Bulli Shire; The body of the cart was made by Rallings Bros., Bulli; Standing outside Bulli Shire Council - from left: William Narbeth (foreman), Tom Jones, Fred Heard (clerk - Bulli Shire) and Health Inspector Hibs Gutty in the white coat; Photograph taken October 1 1924.

This was the first motorised sanitary wagon in the Bulli Shire; The body of the cart was made by Rallings Bros., Bulli; Standing outside Bulli Shire Council – from left: William Narbeth (foreman), Tom Jones, Fred Heard (clerk – Bulli Shire) and Health Inspector John “Gutty” Hiles in the white coat; Photograph taken October 1 1924.

Council purchased the Vulcan motor chassis, through Ivo Bunker, who had the service station opposite Bulli pub, and the construction of the body, with a carrying capacity of 90 pans, was entrusted to Mr. J. R. Rallings, whose workshop was located near the corner of Organ’s Road on today’s Prince’s Highway.  By October the Mercury reported that the Health Inspector Mr Hiles and his staff were making good use of the new sanitary wagon, enabling it to dispense with five horse and carts.

The Bulli Sanitary Truck parked outside Ivo Bunker's Bulli Garage, opposite Bulli Family Hotel C.1925

The Bulli Sanitary Truck parked outside Ivo Bunker’s Bulli Garage, opposite Bulli Family Hotel C.1925

A sanitary truck with carter in the Illawarra during the 1950s

A sanitary truck with carter in the Illawarra during the 1950s

After the Bulli Shire became part of the Greater City of Wollongong in 1947, the Woonona sanitary depot had been operating for almost 40 years. Pressure was mounting from the surrounding community and health authorities for the depot’s closure. The site also supported a garbage dump and the stench from the site was becoming unbearable. The Illawarra Mercury reported on October 14 1948:

The Bulli-Woonona Progress Association has decided to request the City Council to move the Bulli sanitary depot and rubbish dump to another site. At the monthly meeting of the association on Monday night, Mr Clarke was of the opinion that an improved method of disposal was necessary. He said that cricketers, playing at Nicholson Park, Woonona, recently, disbanded the match because they could not stand the smoke and fumes which had blown over from the dump. Mr. Makin said that sanitary employees had drained the nightsoil trenches into the sea for the last six months to his knowledge. He had reported the matter, to the health inspector, but nothing had been done to rectify it. He said that, even residents in Farrell and Park roads, Bulli, were affected by the smoke from the dump and stench from the depot when south east or south westerly winds blew.

Wollongong City Council was given 24 hours notice by the NSW Health Department to remove the sanitary depot from Bulli in 1951. The Health Department gave Council two alternative sites – East Dapto or Helensburgh. Council chose to relocate operations to its existing Helensburgh sanitary depot, causing outrage from residents of the small township. The Illawarra Daily Mercury reported on Wednesday March 14 1951:

Sanitary trucks like these were common on the streets of Bulli during the 1960s.

Sanitary trucks like these were common on the streets of Bulli during the 1960s.

At one of the biggest and rowdiest meetings ever held in Helensburgh, the Mayor (Ald. J. J. Kelly) and the Town Clerk (Mr. W.H. Mitchell) were heckled last night when they defended the City Council’s decision to transfer the Bulli sanitary depot to Helensburgh.  
The meeting, called by the Helensburgh Chamber of Commerce was in uproar when the Mayor said the council had been given 24 hours notice by the Health Department to get the sanitary depot out of Bulli. He said the council had to find somewhere, and although the department had given it two alternatives – East Dapto and Helensburgh – it had been forced to use Helensburgh, irrespective of its suitability. When Mr. Mitchell spoke in support of the Mayor, he was constantly heckled.
Ald. Floyd said everyone in Helensburgh was indignant about the move. He said he had not been given a chance to discuss it in council, as it had never appeared in the business paper. It had come forward as a mayoral minute, and the whole matter had been finalised in three minutes. The local people knew nothing about it until it was an accomplished fact. 
The meeting carried unanimously, a motion protesting, against Helensburgh being made “the sanitary depot for all nightsoil from Fairy Meadow and district north to Helensburgh,” and against the sanitary waggons passing through the township. The motion stated residents considered this endangered the health of the town and demanded that the nightsoil from the area be disposed of in a modern, up-to-date, hygienic manner by the installation of a sewerage disposal plant, piped out to sea. The meeting decided to send the protest on to the City Council and to the Minister for Health.

The South Coast Times reported that the Woonona Sanitary Depot was closed for the reception of night soil on Saturday March 10 1951. On Monday March 12, the service was diverted to Helensburgh.

The following year a transfer station was built at Greens Pinch on Bulli Pass and the pans were taken from the familiar red trucks, and reloaded onto semi-trailers for transportation to the Helensburgh Sanitary Depot.

The garbage tip continued to operate from the Woonona site until the early 1970s. The site was later transformed into Ocean Park. The sewer system was eventually connected to the Bulli district during the mid 1970s.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2014.

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