Today we have over 70 public toilets facilities in Pōneke, all of which you can see on this handy map. But access to public toilets in Wellington, and the rest of Aotearoa, has not always been so easy.
Poor public sanitation
The need for public toilets and better sewerage systems for the city became clear in the late 1800s. The sewers at the time seeped into backyards and went out to sea. Children could often be found playing near the refuse at the beach and in their backyards. Many Wellingtonians got sick from infectious diseases related to poor sanitation like typhoid – records show 77 people died from these diseases in 1890.
Another drive behind the need for public toilets was an abundance of arrests for allegations of public indecency. In 1898 W G Tustin, JP wrote to Council to request more ‘conveniences’, specifically urinals to be erected to reduce the ‘several recent occasions men – many of respectable appearance – have been arrested, tried and imprisoned for acts of indecency on the street’.
Building women’s toilets was less of a priority as women appear to have been more discreet and not so much in need of conveniences.
A woman’s right to pee
In 1911 Wellington had less than half as many public toilets for women as for men, but compared with other New Zealand cities, the capital was streets ahead.
Records show Wellington had a number of women’s public toilets by 1906, by contrast, Dunedin had none until 1908, and women in Auckland had to wait until 1910.
Before women’s public toilets were built, women had to rely on the kindness of shopkeepers, or use ‘semi- public’ facilities at the back of private homes.
The loos we lost along the way
Despite a significant increase in restrooms, several well-known toilets have closed, but leave a lasting history behind them.