The underground public toilet for men in Queen Street, built in 1905, was the second underground public toilet built in Melbourne. It is one of a number built in Melbourne in the early twentieth century in response to increasing demands for public toilet facilities in the city that were both sanitary and discreet. The first public toilet, a urinal, had been built in 1859, following the opening of the Yan Yean water supply in 1858. But these street level toilets were regarded as indecently public, and without an underground sewerage system, the waste discharged directly into the gutters. Underground toilets, which removed toilets from public view and so satisfied contemporary perceptions of decency, had already been built in Scotland, England and Sydney. The establishment in December 1890 of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works, responsible for building and maintaining an underground sewerage system, provided the necessary infrastructure, and the first underground public toilet in Melbourne, which included facilities for women as well as men, was opened in Russell Street in 1902. Ten others were built by 1939. The Queen Street underground toilet provoked much criticism for its public location in the heart of Melbourne's commercial precinct, demonstrating that even when located underground, public toilets continued to challenge notions of public respectability in the early twentieth century. It is still in use, and is the oldest continuously operating underground public toilet in Australia.
The Queen Street underground public toilet is located in the middle of Queen Street near the junction with Collins Street, at the centre of Melbourne's commercial precinct. It has stairways at either end leading to a below-ground space originally with five cubicles and six urinals, a store and cleaner's space. At street level the two stairways are surrounded by wrought iron railings on bluestone kerbing, and are marked by cast iron sign posts. The former pitchers and pavement lights on the pavement between the two stairways have now been removed and replaced by a concrete slab and a random coursed bluestone planter box. The interior has been remodelled, and no original internal fittings survive.
How is it significant?
The underground public toilet in Queen Street is of historical and architectural significance to the State of Victoria.
Why is it significant?
The underground public toilet in Queen Street is of historical significance as the oldest functioning underground public toilet in Victoria, and in Australia. It was the second underground public toilet built in Melbourne, and is a reflection of an important era of sanitary, technological and social reform in the early twentieth century, of contemporary reforms in public health, and of municipal responsibility for the provision of such public facilities. It is associated with a major engineering achievement, the development of Melbourne's underground drainage and sewerage system, and the advances in sanitation and public health made possible, following the establishment of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works. It is of historical significance as a reflection of attitudes to public decency in the early twentieth century.
The underground public toilet in Queen Street is of architectural significance as an early example of an unusual building type, and of early twentieth century civic design. Although the interior has been altered the remaining railings, gates and sign posts are of interest as examples of street furniture of the period.