Goodbye Bondi cigars and brown-eyed mullets

Archival photo of Diamond Bay Ocean Outfall and airshaft, 1934 (Image: Sydney Water)

For more than 100 years, raw sewage has been emptied into the sea off Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach. As Laura Baehny reports, the NSW Government is finally getting rid of the “brown fuzz”.


Untreated human waste has been flowing into the ocean off four of Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs – Vaucluse, Dover Heights, Rose Bay and Watsons Bay – for just over a century. In recent decades, it has been joined by disposable nappies, toilet paper and wet wipes.

Now the NSW Government has decided it’s time to get rid of the offensive matter local swimmers have long dubbed “Bondi cigars and brown-eye mullets”.

NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, announced on Sunday (November 4) that Sydney Water will stop using the cliff-face ocean outfalls near Vaucluse and Diamond Bay, to protect the beaches, reduce pollution and to improve water quality.

The site of the Diamond Bay ocean outfalls (Photo: Sydney Water)

The last three remaining pipes will be switched off and the flow will be diverted to the Bondi Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“This significant project will address the pollution from the last untreated ocean outfalls, and deliver benefits for residents in the area, the marine environment and for Sydney-siders who enjoy the iconic coastline,” she said.

Cleaner water ahead for Vaucluse Bay (Photo: Ari Kimber)

The retirement of the pipes follows the release of a report commissioned by Sydney Water earlier this year, which found sewage outfalls posed critical health risks to people in primary contact with the water.

It also revealed that around four million litres of sewage was entering the pipes daily.

Minister of Utilities, Don Harwin, said the community agreed it was important to stop untreated wastewater being discharged directly into the ocean. “Discharged sewage, [as well as] plastics and toilet paper, is piling up on the ocean floor, causing a threat to the exposed marine life,” he said.

Australia’s first ocean outfall was constructed in Bondi between 1880 and 1889.

Construction workers on the site of the Bondi Ocean Outfall Sewer (Photo: Sydney Water)

The Vaucluse and Diamond Bay ocean outfalls soon followed. The first in 1916 and the second in the early 1930s. They were the last built without treatment facilities.

(Photo: Sydney Waterways)

The Bondi, Vaucluse and Diamond Bay outfalls were heritage listed in 2000.

Work on the new tunnels to re-direct the area’s wastewater is scheduled to begin mid-2019. The government expects the project to be finished by 2020. – @PangaeaLaura