A commode is defined as ‘a stand or cupboard containing a chamber pot or washbasin’. They date from before the days of sewerage and flushing toilets, when for obvious reasons, the toilet or can was located outside the house, usually at the far end of the backyard.
This example was made by Jack Male for his new wife Penny to save her a creepy walk to the backyard ‘dunny’ at night. In summer the path could be covered in hazards such as spider webs (Garden Orb spiders which are common in Sydney, spin large webs at night). Rats would also be attracted to a backyard toilet. The journey would also be dark and of course, the weather could be wet and unpleasant at any time of year. A commode therefore provided the convenience of an ‘ensuite’ bathroom at the time.
Jack used three kerosene lamp oil crates strengthened by six wooden supports to make a seat to hold the potty. The two side crates provided storage. Jack’s daughter advised that it was based on designs recommended to the home handyman by organisations such as the New Settlers League of Australia. She stated that her father was a very inventive man who ‘made all sorts of things’.
When not in use a lid is placed over the central section and the whole piece is covered in floral print upholstery fabric. Making the commode a very acceptable looking piece of furniture for the bedroom.
Once its days as a commode were over, the unit was kept in use for the storage of boots and later it was passed on to Jack and Penny’s daughter who donated it to the Museum. Although the commode can be considered a humble home made object; for the donor it was imbued with memories of her childhood and her Mum and Dad. Like the Water-rat fur coat, this object is both a potent reminder of a time when living standards were quite different to those of today and of a long and happy marriage.
Post by Lynne McNairn, Web and Social Techologies