Dunny diver

Dunny diver

Dunny diver noun: a plumber.

There are a number of colloquial names for different types of tradespeople (tradies) that are well known in Australia and elsewhere. In the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, electricians are informally known as sparkies; carpenters as chippies; and bricklayers as brickies. And in Australia many occupation names are abbreviated with the inclusion of a -y or -o suffix: ambo (ambulance driver) dishy (dish washer), firie (firefighter), gyno (gynaecologist), journo (journalist), muso (musician), pollie (politician), and wharfie (dock worker) to name a few. But is there an informal name for a plumber? According to a recent contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald’s Column 8 there are no such nicknames. Other contributors to the column begged to differ:

There are many, so just try to go with the flow. Drippies (Rob Cummins of Turramurra), dunny divers (Glynn Stiller of Bowral), rich (Neil Maclean of Bowral) .. and flushies (Roderick van Gelder of Hunters Hill). (23 June 2020)

Some of these names are jokes, but we have evidence for dunny diver from at least twenty years ago, and it may be much older still.

In Australian English the word dunny is used informally for toilet. It derives from the British dialect word dunnekin meaning ‘privy’ (from dung ’excrement’ and ken ‘house’). It was originally used in Australian English, from the 1930s, to refer to an unsewered outside toilet. It is found it various compounds in relation to the collecting and disposal of human waste, including dunny can, dunny cart, and dunny man. In recent decades it appears in compounds such as dunny paper, dunny roll, and dunny budgie (a blowfly). But it’s not until the 2000s that we begin to see evidence of dunny diver in the Australian vernacular.

In 2000, for instance, a company name painted on the side of a truck in Victoria unsettled one writer:

Gruesome mental picture is painted by the name of the firm of plumbers whose boldly painted truck is regularly to be seen, cruising shamelessly through the streets of peaceful Sunbury. They call themselves ‘The Dunny Divers’. (Melbourne Herald Sun, 23 November)

Further early evidence suggests that this evocative Australian term was used by plumbers themselves. On several archived webpages from 2002 people have described their occupation as ‘dunny diver’. More intriguing still is an old index card in the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s archive that reads: ‘Dunny Diver .. Plumber— as known in the industry.’ The reference is dated 1968, and locates the term in Melbourne. Unfortunately, we have no further information about this reference. The date can’t be verified, but the card certainly predates the late 1980s.

While the evidence shows that dunny diver is almost always used humorously, including, and perhaps originally, by plumbers themselves, it can also be derogatory:

Mr Wadeston said there was often a negative perception of working in the trades. ‘With plumbers and stuff, people call them dunny-divers and while that might be a small part of it, you don't do that all of the time’, he said. (Melbourne Sunday Age, 17 November 2002)

For the most part, however, it is found in light-hearted contexts:

Only Shane Jacobson's relentlessly cheery dunny-diver from 2006's ‘Kenny’ could reimagine our national anthem as a chat-up routine: ‘Australians all, let us ring Joyce, for she is young and free’. (Rockingham Weekend Courier, 26 January 2013)

Dunny diver will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Updated:  1 October 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications