The official year of celebration runs in alignment with the financial year from 1 July 2016 to 30 June 2017. We have several activities planned to mark this significant milestone in our history, including a four-part here in Australian Plumbing Industry magazine.

Our first article in this series looks at the circumstances that led to the establishment and early years of the Association in the boom period of late 19th Century of Victoria.

Modern sanitation for Melbourne

The 1880s in Victoria were a time of huge transformation – housing construction doubled between 1883 and 1888 to meet the demand of the soaring population. The associated sewage and drainage problems led to a Royal Commission investigation, which resulted in the establishment of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works in 1891.

The Board was tasked with controlling the water supply and establishing an underground sewerage system for Melbourne. It was to be the largest construction project in Victoria for at least the next four decades. The plumbing community of Melbourne responded to this task, and in 1891 a group of 57 plumbers came together to form the Associated Master Plumbers of Victoria.

Core values

At this time the core values of the Association were adopted from the Worshipful Company of Plumbers in London. The core values were designed to be backed by legislation and uphold:

  • Standards of workmanship
  • Sound technical instruction for plumbers and apprentices
  • Ethical and professional business conduct
  • Registration of plumbers and quality control through independent inspections

A focus on education

The Association recognised the importance of education and training that formed part of the core values, and in 1893 a simple series of lectures was held at the Working Men’s College to aid the cultivation and retention of knowledge and experience within the industry. To further encourage excellence within the industry, The Andrew Letten Gold Medal Award was introduced in 1908, an award which is still given this day. It is named in honour of the man who was for many years the Association’s examiner representing the plumbing industry in the examination of all plumbing apprentices through the state.

The Association made considerable efforts during its early years negotiating with the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to protect the standard of the trade. After several years of persistent lobbying for appropriate legislation and licensing to ensure that the reputation of the profession could be upheld, the first sanitary license was issued in 1896. The contentious issue of Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works employees doing plumbing work, was also finally resolved in 1935 when they were banned from crossing the building line.

The plumber protects the health of the nation 

Master Plumbers strongly promoted their role in public health and in an e ort to raise the profile of the Association, in 1898 the first crest was adopted –a fountain motif. The current crest featuring Hygieia, the Greek Goddess of health, hygiene and sanitation, was then adopted in 1920 together with the motto “For the health of my country”.

The 1890s were also a period of increasing industrial issues. Early representatives of the Association sat on the Wages Board under which minimum wages and other working conditions were set. Throughout the decades and still to this day, the Association negotiates with unions on behalf of its members, providing a means for employers and employees to reach fair and equitable agreements.

As well as being the first venue for Association meetings, Rubira’s Café in Bourke Street was also the location for regular social events, referenced in the archives as “smoke nights”. In an era before television and the internet, entertainment took on a much different form. The minutes of the monthly meetings often describe official proceedings ending with song and dance. In 1902, for example, it is noted that “at the conclusion of business, the piano was brought in and, with Mr Cash officiating as a pianist, the following men favoured the company with songs...”. Master Plumbers meetings continued at Rubira’s Café for over a decade before obtaining a room at the Victorian Employer’s Federation offices on Collins Street.

Our first publication

Around 1910, Plumbing and Lighting, a specialist magazine for plumbers, gas and electrical fitters, sanitary engineers and metal workers was introduced as the Association’s first official publication. The magazine provided illustrated technical information, promoted the growth of Trade Associations, allowed advertising from manufacturers and merchants, and published news from the various state Associations. The Service Bulletin was later introduced in 1949, followed by the Plumbing Industry Journal, now known as the Australian Plumbing Industry (API) Magazine, in 1985. The API magazine now has the industry’s largest circulation with nearly 30,000 subscribers.