When I was a young boy growing up not many houses had inside bathrooms. We didn’t call them bathrooms; dunny, shithouse, lavatory, and throne were the most common names we used. The dunny at Peel Street and at my nanna’s place was a tall freestanding enclosed shed holding a toilet with a pull chain, and they were a modest distance from the back door of the house.
When my father and granddad enclosed the back veranda of Peel Street with glass louvred windows the dunny became a lavatory because it was sort of inside, but it didn’t have a sink. There was a small light in the lav so when we sat on the throne we could prop the door ajar with our right knee allowing just enough light from the louvred windows to read a Mandrake, Phantom or Commando comic.
I don’t remember much of the evolution from swinging my feet when sitting on the throne to executing the perfect squat angle in Asia and the Middle East but I do know that there were subtle transformations in my bowel movements, lavatory protocol, dunny etiquette and throne customs. One of the most influencing forces was my mother refusing to let us sit on the public toilets in a camping or caravan park. She spent many hours of my young life and my brother Peter’s exhorting on us the frightening diseases and maladies that we would be struck down with if we ever rested our bums on the public throne; we listened wide-eyed and terrified as we tried to imagine what was sliming, crawling, and mutating under the rim, on the seat, and somewhere in the bowl. I don’t remember any of the infirmities or sicknesses that she told us about only that plague, scab, pox, typhus, and cholera were used a lot. I do remember one of the first times I had to run the gauntlet of the wooden dunny seat: it seemed every time that I had to run the gauntlet it was a first.
We went camping and then caravanning as a family for several years when I was a young boy; the voyagers were mum and dad, nanna and granddad, and my brother and me. My mother overcame the challenges of using the public lavatories at the parks by having granddad, make a wooden dunny seat. It was only the seat, no folding down top. When the family went camping we all had to carry the seat, along with paper, to the brick bunker that housed the unsanitary four or five cesspools.
At the beginning of each camping trip, I became a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. I didn’t launch a complete fast but I did limit my intake of solids. I was striving to cause my bowl activity to be nonexistent. I didn’t want to run the gauntlet of the wooden dunny seat. I kept telling my mum I wasn’t hungry because of the excitement of doing all the new holiday callings: She understood.
It is extremely hard for an adult to hide or disguise a big wooden dunny seat they are carrying; it is impossible for a small boy. The seat seemed to stretch from my armpit to my waist. I thought it was better to walk slowly with the seat instead of running. Running would only draw attention to oneself and besides, what would you do with the seat; swing it with your right arm as if it was a relay baton. I avoided the well travelled walking paths and shuffled and crept as I navigated through a tangled maze of tents and caravans to the public lavatories. It was all in vain. As soon as I was spotted with the dangling wooden dunny seat everyone would stop their games of pick up cricket, end to end footie, British bulldog, or something just made up with a gum tree branch and a rock and it became a scene from a Peckinpah movie: An intricate, multi-angle, quick-cut montage of normal and slow-motion images. In slow motion, the adults and children would point and laugh and their mouths would be forming words I couldn’t hear. They would lope alongside me mimicking; I felt as if I was the campground target of ridicule. I ran the gauntlet of the wooden dunny seat.
About ten years ago I stopped and stood in front of King Edwards’s oak coronation chair in Westminster Abbey.
In 1296 Edward I of England invaded Scotland with a bloody attack on the town of Berwick. Upon his conquest, he took as a spoil of war the Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone. The stone was the Scottish coronation stone. Edward had a Coronation Chair made and placed the Stone of Scone under it so all future English Kings would be crowned sitting in the chair and on top of the Stone of Scone. Whenever English royalty sat on the throne they were also sitting on Scotland.
Berwick-upon-Tweed is still a traditional market town and is only two and a half miles from the Scottish border. It is the northernmost town in England. For more than 400 years it had been consumed in the historic border wars between the kingdoms of England and Scotland; it changed hands thirteen times and the townspeople were known as the dissenters.
As well as being a descendent from Australian Royalty, a poacher sentenced by the English court to transportation to the Australian penal colony, I am also a descendent from two dissenters of Berwick. So they could be married in Scotland the dissenters crossed over the halfway mark of the Bridge at Lamberton Toll.
The English returned the Stone of Scone to Scotland in 1996. The stone is proudly displayed in Edinburgh Castle.
When I gazed upon the stone for a second time my Scottish ancestry and the myths of the McAdam clan became facts of existence. I thought back to the lectures my mum used to harangue us with about sitting on a public throne. Her long inventory of diseases that included the plague, scab, pox, typhus, and cholera were not forebodings about the looming maladies that were going to strike us down: it was the proud spirits of my ancestor’s whispering their presence. They were flyting with savage tirades against those who had slighted them. I was too young to understand. The wooden dunny seat was a symbol of Scottish nationhood and freedom: the Stone of Scone.
Today I would proudly run the gauntlet of the wooden dunny seat; I would hold the seat with arms stretched skyward and scamper not just on the walking paths but throughout the camping ground and caravan parks; just as the torchbearer carries the Olympic flame.
The wrath of the Scots is still divided. The Scottish independence referendum took place on September 18th 2014: The No side won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 for Yes.
I still wonder however why my mum made us wear plastic sandals in the showers at the camping grounds and caravan parks; we weren’t allowed to stand on the concrete floor.
3 thoughts on “Sitting on the Throne”
Very nice story. Reminds me of the potty chair we carried on our trips when my brothers and sisters were young. My dad took photos of a couple of my siblings caring the little wooden chair with the slide-out pan.
Dunny… One of my favourite Aussie slang words… one I had nearly forgotten about. Why has it been robbed of its rightful place on the tags?
Listen to Frankie Davidson: Hope your chooks turn into emus and kick your dunny down .