10 Weird Aussie Jobs of Yesteryear That No Longer Exist

August 15, 2018


On the Job


Harry Webber

Remember the good old days? A time when technology wasn't at our fingertips and before refrigerators were a thing? Don't worry, neither do we, and in many ways, we should consider ourselves lucky.

Before modern advancements reached Australia, we relied on good ol' fashion man power to get us by. From the 'dunny man' to the 'rat catcher', take a look at these Aussie jobs of yesteryear that might help you appreciate just how good we've got it today.

1. The Telephone Operator

Adelaide telephone exhange operators working
Women working at the Adelaide Telephone Exchange, c. 1918. Source: SA History Hub

That’s right, way before they had satellites and smartphones, people were connected manually. Initially it was only essential services like the police and fire brigade who had access to telephone lines, however, this later expanded to businesses and private citizens around the turn of the 19thCentury. It has also been said that Instagram was not super popular back in these days.

2. The Drover

Sheep station drovers on horse back
Drovers, Roseneath sheep station, Tenterfield, 1942. Source: Wiki Media

Before trucks came along, farmers would employ tough-as-nails drovers to move their livestock across vast agricultural plains of Australia. These fellas were viewed as the true blue Aussie outdoorsmanby many, and were the subject of many bush poems by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson.

3. The Humble Milkman

Aussie milk man delivering milk to woman
A milkman delivers milk to a woman at her home in 1950s Australia. Source: National Museum of Australia

Before refrigerators became household staples, keeping milk cold was practically impossible and the friendly neighbourhood milkman was the solution to this dilemma. Delivering fresh milk to the grateful households/housewives of Australia was probably one of the more perky jobs of the last century.

4. Lamp Lighters

Lamp lighter working
Long poles were used to light, extinguish and refuel street lamps. Source: Lamp Lighters Wooster

Before street lights were turned on with the modern day witchcraft we call electricity, the lamps that lined the towns were lit and extinguished manually. It was the job of this night owl to make sure the streets were illuminated from dusk ‘til dawn, everyday.

5. Town Husband

Man standing next to horse
Andree Gourlay with his horse and cart in Broken Hill. Source: The Daily Telegraph

Got an illegitimate child? Trying to keep it on the down low from yourwife/family? No problemo! The town husband worked for the church and would collect money from you to forward on to your emotionally neglected child — kind of like Western Union for absent dads.

6. Ice Delivery Man

Ice delivery man loading truck
Iceman, Frederick Danvers Power, 1898-1926. Source: State Library of NSW: ON 225

Sounds like a cool job right? Though it may seem like madness now, ice was something of a luxury before fridges became commonplace during the 50’s, so lads would cart around huge chunks of frozen water (the key ingredient to ice) and deliver them to households.

7. The Rat Catcher

Group of rat catchers near a pile of rats
Ratcatchers in the Rocks, Sydney. Source: OZ Photography

Before the distribution of rat poison were available to the public, professional rat catchers had no choice but to be a little more hands on. These guys would use traps and dogs to capture and kill our furry little friends, to stop the spread of disease and earn themselves a little cash.

8. Knocker Upper

Knocker upper worker
The human alarm clock. Source: laboiteverte.fr

What did people do before iPhone alarms to wake them up in the morning? They employed a ‘knocker-upper’. Kind of like a human alarm clock, this person would go around tohouses and tap on windows in order to get you up on time. And going off our resentful relationship with the modern alarm, we can only imagine that whoever was doing this job back in the day, was a pretty unpopular chap around town.

9. Almoner

Man putting money into coin container
An almoner collecting donations in 1934. Source: Daily Telegraph

Everyone likes money right? The almoner was the person who would distribute money collected by the church to the poor, which (you’d hope) would make them the most trustworthy person in town.

10. The Dunny Man

Dunny Man working
The "can" was collected every week by the "dunny man". Source: Recollections

You can probably figure out that this person's job was collecting people’s waste from their ‘thunderboxes’ and outhouses. The dunny man would either come weekly, or (in densely populated areas) nightly,and take the contents of your household’s toilet far, far away. It’s kind of like the opposite of Santa Claus but with poo, not presents.

Harry Webber

Harry is a Sydney-based blogger and writer for Smith's Lawyers. He writes about a range of topics including workers rights and road safety.