Few people stop to look at the weathered bronze plaque, which is set in a block of sandstone next to a path at Cronulla beach.
The plaque commemorates a major milestone in the development of Sutherland Shire, which occurred 60 years ago this month.
On Saturday, October 13, 1956, a line of dignitaries dressed in their Sunday best were seated on the Esplanade to hear Premier Joe Cahill officially declare open the Cronulla Sewage Scheme.
It was the beginning of the end for the shire’s pan toilets and service by the “dunny man”.
The system has been greatly expanded over the years but is still essentially the same, with sewage flowing to the treatment works on Captain Cook Drive and then being pumped into the ocean at Potter Point.
The original plan was for the outfall to be at Boat Harbour, but the potential for beach pollution was realised and the pipe was extended.
The original works were designed to serve 25,000 people, with provision for future expansion to serve at least 100,000.
Today, the plant serves around 210,000 people and has the capacity to treat 52 million litres of wastewater per day in dry weather
Work on amplifying the treatment pant began in 1964, and over the next decade, the whole works were reconstructed.
Various expansions followed and tertiary treatment was added. The plant was recently upgraded to reduce the risk of odours.
Treated effluent is still discharged at the cliff-face, unlike North Head, Bondi and Malabar, which have deepwater ocean outfalls.
SHIRE SEWAGE SYSTEM
W. V. Aird’s history of the Sydney Water Board detailed the Cronulla project in a chapter on “Sewage services to Outer Areas”.
“The Board supplied water to the Cronulla-Sutherland district in 1931 and in 1939 prepared preliminary schemes for sewering the two main townships (Sutherland and Cronulla),” Aird wrote.
“Nothing could be done during the war, but afterwards the Shire Council asked that the work be done under the government scheme for assistance to outlying centres.
“It was found that the levels would permit the sewage from Sutherland to be taken into the Cronulla system by a line in deep tunnel, and work was commenced on the Cronulla sewage scheme in August, 1952.
“This consists of of a central zone and seven subsidiary low-level areas to sewer the Cronulla Peninsula as far west as Woolooware Road and as far north as Cronulla golf links.
“The whole area will drain to pumping station No. 175 near Elouera Road and Captain Cook Drive at the northern end of the Cronulla golf links.
”From that point the sewage is pumped about 4000 ft to a treatment work on the eastern side of Captain Cook Drive, Kurnell.
“The effluent is pumped to an ocean outfall at Potter Point, about 3½ miles north of the treatment works. while the digested sludge is disposed of in sand depressions within the works reserve.
“The site originally chosen for the outfall was on the seaward side of the reef running from north to south from Boat Harbour, however the effluent line was extended to Potter Point at a cost of [$61,000].
”To prevent residential development in the vicinity of Potter Point, the Department of Lands has reserved slightly more than 10 acres adjoining the outfall.”
“For the initial development the main pumping station and treatment works were designed to serve 25,000 people, with provision for future expansion to serve at least 100,000.”
The final cost of the works was $3.2 million in today’s terms.
By the end of June 1960, 39.8 miles of sewers had been laid and 23,653 properties connected, giving service to a population of 9570.