Experimental Disaster

Lincoln Street Sewer Vent, Highgate, Perth, Western AustraliaThe Lincoln Street Sewer Vent, in the Perth suburb of Highgate, was constructed in 1935 as a type of experiment for venting the unpleasant acid-bearing air from the sewerage system more simply and efficiently. Needless to say, the experiment was hailed as a dismal failure.

Dumas’ Folly

The Metropolitan Water Supply and Drainage Department under the direction of Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, Russell Dumas (Dumas House fame), decided to build two sewerage vents in Perth, one in Subiaco and the other in Highgate.

The 38m Art Deco vent at Highgate was built on the corner of Lincoln Street on the site of the Highgate Hill Police Station. A perfect location because it was high on a hill. Lincoln Street Sewer Vent, Lincoln Street, Highgate, Perth, Western Australia The 38m tower included a one metre high plinth, making it the second-highest tower of its kind in Australia. The tallest tower, which is 40m high, can be found in Sydney and was built in 1893. The concept behind building these towers was for the horrendously smelling air from the sewerage to filter up through the tower, into the atmosphere high above the area and blow away. It was also designed to prevent the acid bearing air corroding the concrete-lined sewerage pipes. It all sounded like a great idea, but no one counted for mother nature and her fickled weather conditions. On certain days the smelly polluted air did not vent up as expected but dispersed itself throughout the neighbourhood and the police station. It wasn’t long before the residents began complaining about the foul odours. To make matters worse the vent wasn’t operating adequately so the only solution for the Public Works Department was to close both towers. The whole debacle became known as the Dumas’ Folly.

Smelly Communication in WWII

But the experiment wasn’t a complete waste of time. In 1941 during World War II the Highgate sewer tower became the perfect location to hide and camouflage the antennae used by the Police Wireless Service. The central wireless section which was used within the police force was moved from the Police Headquarters to the Highgate Police Station and the antennae placed on top of the vent (hidden from view). The location of the wireless section was kept secret at the time, as it was considered a prime bombing target after Japan entered the war. The wireless section remained at Highgate until 1975 when it was removed and transferred back to police headquarters in East Perth. The antennae are still attached to the tower.

Today the monument looking tower, which still remains a dominant figure on the landscape, attracts curious glances from passersby. Very few, I would imagine, would know of its duel purpose.