Public health crises followed as provision of water supply and sewage disposal failed to keep pace with Sydney’s rapid, mid-nineteenth century growth. Construction of necessary infrastructure and the creation of the Water Board, in 1888, to administer it proved to be the solution. This article tells of those who laboured to maintain Sydney’s sewers and thereby helped guarantee the public health of that metropolis. It is a story of grindingly heavy, dangerous and nauseatingly foul work but also of the workers who willingly took that work on. This willingness drew from life experiences and working histories in an era marked by a major depression and persistent employment insecurity for the formally unskilled. Under a paternalist Board, they found employment security, generous employment conditions and wide autonomy in carrying out their work. This convinced them to choose the protected backwater of house unionism rather than more militant union tendencies evident among labourers outside the Board.