Australia in the 1880s

Expanding cities

Problems with the lack of adequate sewerage systems and sanitation abounded in colonial cities. In 1886, a typhoid outbreak in Balmain, Sydney, was traced to seepage from the local cemetery into a dairy's well nearby. The Victorian parliament passed the Public Health Act, establishing a department of public health with a medical inspector to supervise sanitation.

In newly built houses the backyard 'dunny' became an established feature. The structure usually backed onto a laneway where the euphemistically named 'night soil' would be removed daily by the 'dunny man'.

In August 1880, the first wooden blocks were laid down as street paving. These blocks were adopted from Europe, and were a forerunner of bitumen. Hardwood blocks the size of ordinary house bricks were used. King Street in Sydney was the first paved street in Sydney.

King Street, Sydney, looking east from George Street

A snapshot of 1888

  • January
    • Non-Indigenous Australians celebrate 100 years of colonial settlement.

  • May
    • A demonstration against Chinese immigration takes place outside Sydney Town Hall and a month later an Intercolonial Conference on the Chinese question is held.
    • In Queensland, Thomas Glassey becomes the first trade union candidate in any colonial parliament.

  • December
    • The Centennial International Exhibition opens in Melbourne in the newly built Royal Exhibition Building.
    • Henry Lawson's first story, His Father's Mate, is published.
    • The women's magazine, The Dawn, begins publication with editorials by Louisa Lawson, mother of Henry Lawson, and advocates voting rights for women and divorce law reform.
    • It also included household hints, a short story and poetry as well as fashion news. Established by Louisa it was prepared and printed by women.


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