Thursday, 11 February 2016

Ladies' Rest Room - Flinders Street

Despite the need for austerity during the years of the Second World War, the Aldermen who made up the Townsville City Council in the early 1940s were a group of progressive thinkers, who introduced many initiatives of benefit to the community despite the difficult economic climate.

Women’s Rest Room, Flinders Street, Townsville, circa 1965.
Photo: City Libraries Townsville
At a time when almost every available resource went towards the war effort, which included supporting the massive influx of American and Australian service personnel based in Townsville at that time, the City Council established a municipal ice works, and a council-run wood depot and fruit and vegetable market. These projects were designed to offset the shortages caused by massive population increase due to the war.

Another forward-thinking initiative that proved extremely popular was the introduction of a Women’s Rest Room in Flinders Street – the heart of shopping in Townsville at that time.

In August 1944, the Council began renovating shops adjoining the Town Hall that had been occupied by a shoe shop, for conversion to a ladies rest room. The premises were designed to include a waiting room, toilet facilities, and a room for mothers to feed their babies. Soon, strollers were available for hire from the rest room, which proved a real boon, particularly for those women who had travelled to town by bus.

The Women’s Rest Room was such a success that it was enlarged in the early 1950s, in order to keep up with demand. It operated between 9.10 am and 4.50 pm on weekdays and 9.10 am and 11.30 am on Saturdays.

In April 1953, the Townsville Daily Bulletin reported that the average daily attendance at the Women's Rest Room In Flinders Street, which was a free Council service, had reached 200.

“Two electric fans afford a constant stream of air to revive tired shoppers, and tall, green palms arranged around the attractive main sitting room, lend a restfulness to this centrally situated retreat. Iced water is on hand at all times and mirrors and other toilet conveniences are available for those wishing to freshen their makeup,” the Bulletin noted.

“As well as the stroller service and the provision of a retiring room where mothers may feed their babies, the centre offers facilities for heating bottles and changing infants’ diapers. A parcel-minding system is also in operation.”
Women's Rest Room, Flinders Street, Townsville, 1965.
Photo: City Libraries Townsville.
On average, 97 strollers were hired out each day, with scrupulous attention paid to the cleanliness of the equipment for hire. A junior assistant was responsible for making sure that each stroller received a fresh cover before use, and that after use it was treated with disinfectant, so that “all precautions were observed for the sake of the children’s health”.

The Rest Room’s supervisor, Mrs M. Whitaker, told the Bulletin that since the extensions to the room were completed, the attendance had almost doubled.


“Tourists make this their headquarters when they are in the city, and I have been complimented by women from as far afield as America, on the cleanliness of the premises,” she said.

Note: I've had some wonderful feedback about this article, which was published in the Townsville Eye on Saturday, 6 February 2016.
One notable comment came from a former colleague who said that it was her mother that was pictured on the left in the top photo! Do you have any memories of this rest room? Please leave a comment below.

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