Do you use bubblers?

April 11, 2013 at 10:00 am

I haven’t used a bubbler since I was at school. Until I began thinking about them during the curation of the Public Sydney exhibition I didn’t even notice them but have now become just a little bit obsessed with the humble bubbler. Free water, no plastic bottles and once you start looking for them you see them everywhere in the city – what could be better? But the bubbler does have a darker side. Urban legends tell of diseases caught from them [Cold sores! Flu! Polio!!?], animals drinking from them, drunks peeing in them; a decidedly unsavoury side of these seemingly innocent public utilities.

The bubbler has a long history in Sydney [see here for a great online exhibition].

Originally these ‘drinking fountains’ had cups chained to them so the public could easily slake their thirst. Hygiene concerns led to the introduction of today’s form of bubbler from which a jet of water spouts when you pull a lever or press a button. In 1909 the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens proclaimed:

Every street in Sydney should have its drinking-fountain. It should be at least as easy to obtain a drink of pure water as a glass of milk or beer. Sydney is a sub-tropical city, and sometimes it is warm and sometimes it is dusty … Sydney should be a city of fountains.

(J. H. Maiden, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, 1909)

During my journey through the digitised newspapers on Trove I came across historic letters to the editor deploring the behaviour of some users ranging from watering their horses at them through to washing their laundry in them. Reports from the Water Police Court show that people were periodically charged with ‘polluting the water of a drinking fountain’ although details are rarely given. Angry water-watchers complain that children just cannot help playing in them, wasting precious liquid, but on the whole they seem to have been a valued part of the city’s public furniture. What do they mean to today’s city users?

I have set myself a challenge to begin using the city’s bubblers once again. I am now traveling the city, seeking out bubblers, talking to their users and rating them according to my own peculiar criteria. Vanessa’s last post identified the bubbler on Bennelong Point as the place from which you can get one of the best views of Sydney. This is certainly a great criterion for appreciation of a bubbler but I have decided on some others; cleanliness, water quality, spray reliability, ease of use and aesthetic qualities. The first bubbler I considered is located at the Macquarie Street end of Martin Place:

Martin Place bubbler

Martin Place bubbler

Martin Place Bubbler 

I’ve never seen this bubbler in use but once, on a glorious October morning, I did see splotches of water on the surrounding pavement suggesting that someone had used it.

Cleanliness – the bowl contained some leaf litter. It does have a guard to stop people touching the water spout with their mouth. 3/5

Water quality – Clear and at air temperature. Water temperature is perhaps a bit warm for the water connoisseur but acceptable to me [I hate really cold water]. 4/5

Spray reliability – Tricky to control as it sometimes bubbles up with a spurt of pressure which led to the appearance of ‘chin drippage’ [an unfortunate malady suffered by some users during which large water drops hang from the chin before splashing onto clothing]. 2/5

Ease of use – It is in quite an exposed spot and I felt a little vulnerable using it as bustling business people passed by. 3/5

Aesthetic qualities – A simple, traditional city bubbler with no embellishments. 3/5

Star rating: ***

Do you use this bubbler? Do you have a favourite bubbler? As a bubbler novice [and not terribly coordinated person] I’d appreciate any usage tips…