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Victorian Archives Centre public opening hours

Monday to Friday: 10:00 am to 4:30 pm
(excl. public holidays)
The second and last Saturday of every month

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For all the grandeur that was ‘Marvellous Melbourne’ in the 1880s, the city was nicknamed ‘Smellbourne’, and for good reason. The building of Yan Yean Reservoir in the 1850s had ensured the availability of fresh water, but there was still no sewerage system.

An appalling stench wafted from the many cesspits and open drains. ‘Nightsoil’ (as human waste was politely referred to) polluted the streets and ran into the Yarra. Nightsoil collectors frequently dumped their loads on public roads. Ignorance and neglect of the hygienic disposal of human waste had devastating results at this time when hundreds died in a savage outbreak of typhoid.

Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works

Portraits of volunteers from the MMBW who served and lost their lives in WWI.

Menu for the MMBW engineering staff banquet, 1894

In 1891 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) was created. It immediately began plans to build an underground drainage system linked to a pumping station at Spotswood, located on the western banks of the mouth of the Yarra River. The sewage flowed by gravity to Spotswood, where it was then pumped to the Werribee Treatment Farm.

World War One recruiting meeting, MMBW employees, Melbourne Town Hall, 15 July 1915

Spotswood Pumping Station

Each of Melbourne’s 12 municipalities – Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Footscray, Melbourne, Prahran, Richmond, St Kilda, Flemington, North Melbourne, Fitzroy, Collingwood and Hawthorn – were to be connected to the sewerage system, in that order.

Visit of Lord Hopetoun to Spottiswoode, 15 March 1895, photograph showing the official party in the straining wells

Photograph showing the original outfall sewer construction scene, c. 1895.

Visit of Lord Hopetoun to Spottiswoode, 15 March 1895, photograph showing the official group outside the store shed

Spotswood Pumping Station built to pump Melbourne’s sewage to Werribee, was finished in 1897. At the pumping station, steam engines (later replaced by electrical ones) worked to pump the sewage up a rising main to join the major sewer outfall at the head of the pumping mains near Millers Road at Brooklyn. The outfall sewer then carried the sewage to the Werribee Treatment Farm where it was purified and discharged into the sea.

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