I don’t usually drink a lot of soft drink at the movies. On my last visit to the neighborhood cinema there was some slight confusion at the ticket office when I was a little late in asking for the senior discount; the tickets were issued at full price. And there was an ensuring fluster with trying to credit the charge card with a refund. I suggested that a quick fix would be to leave the charge on the credit card and just give us a soft drink from the concession stand. You just don’t look a gift horse in the mouth so I requested a large cup. By the end of the movie I was desperately looking for the men’s toilet. As I was flick drying my hands I started searching the walls for the hand dryer or paper dispenser. I kept on rinsing and flick drying my hands into the sink, scanning and rescanning the toilet walls: there wasn’t any way to dry my hands. And then I watched a reflection in the mirror of some one walking up to this waist high mounted box and putting their hands into an opening and then slowly drawing them out. I waited until I was alone. I wet my hands and walked over to the unit and then slowly put my hands down into the opening: a blast of air pulled off the water. I stood there and my arms became the connecting rods of a reciprocating engine as they entered and left the opening of the Dyson Airblade.
And as I stood plunging my arms I thought back to what I had grown up with: just like the Dyson they were examples of style and efficiency. We didn’t call them toilets or bathrooms; dunny, shithouse, lavatory, thunderbox, and throne were the most common names we used. The dunny at Peel Street and at nanna’s place was a tall free standing enclosed shed holding a toilet with a pull chain. And they were a modest distance from the back door of the house. There was a rolled up newspaper wedged between one of the inside four by two’s and the outside wall, and torn off squares of newspaper were hanging on a nail, inside of Nanna’s dunny. Grandad read the newspaper and then it became the squares of dunny paper. Nanna also had an under the bed chamber pot in the sleep out. The sleep out was a medium size shed in the back yard; it was behind the wash house but close at hand to the house. The chamber pot was under the bed and a beautiful china jug and bowl set was on the dresser; I don’t know if it was used to wash your hands. The first legitimate toilet paper I remember was like tracing paper; rolls of white, hard, shiny paper; but It was better than the print coming off when you wiped. We called the rolls of toilet paper bog rolls.
And of course we had our euphemisms for when we had to go to the dunny; choke a darkie, give birth to a politician, throttle one, or lay down some blind mullet. When dad and granddad enclosed the back veranda of Peel Street with glass louvered windows the dunny became a lavatory because it was sort of inside; but it didn’t have a sink or any where to wash your hands. We would wash our hands in the wash house bathroom; it was at the opposite end of the back veranda and when it wasn’t washing day we would wash our hands in one of the wash troughs. During the day when we sat on the throne we would prop the door ajar with our knee so the light that streamed through from the louvered windows would light up the thunder box so we could read a Mandrake, Phantom or Biggles comic.
In the fifties Aunt Bet and Ken built their house in Chadstone; it was a burgeoning suburb of Melbourne and would soon be home to what would become the biggest shopping center in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere. Their house was a post war cream brick veneer with a tiled roof, and it had an inside toilet. The toilet was the size of a small broom cupboard and was in the hallway opposite the kitchen; the only decoration inside the pigeonhole was a BALM Paints calendar on the back of the door. This was the first inside toilet I had seen and used. I didn’t make a habit of wanting to go to the inside dunny when we visited Aunt Bet and Ken’s but every time I went I learned a new downside of the inside toilet. Over the years the inside throne has been jazzed up with porcelain in every shade known, polished concrete, natural stone and river rock, green pebbled glass splashbacks, metallic accents and rustic materials, gold fittings, duckboard flooring, and Dyson Airblades.
And it has become known as the restroom or bathroom. In spite of all the revamping that has happened it still has the same drawbacks of Aunt Bet and Ken’s broom cupboard. And so it is time to recognize and salute the benefits of the outdoor thunderbox. It’s time to bring back the outdoor dunny. I’m not talking the lean to wooden shed at the bottom of the backyard covered by an out of control exotic wisteria or jasmine; the outhouse by the back fence that opened onto a bluestone cobbled lane so the nightman could collect the waste a couple of times a week. I’m thinking a structure with a swinging door, peepholes cut into the side walls, connected to some form of plumbing, covered in a topiary green climbing plant, and a modest distance from the house.
The distance from the house is important because the dunny has to be far enough away that you feel comfortable letting a killer lamb vindaloo curry fart rip and you are untroubled by a bout of explosive diarrhea. The dunny should be far enough away from the house that no one would complain if you were practicing the performances of Le Pétomane. Joseph Pujol is acknowledged as one of the most unique performers ever to perform on a French stage. His Moulin Rouge act included impressions of famous people, blowing out candles using only the gases emitted from his posterior, and inserting a rubber tube into his anus, attaching an ocarina to the end of the hose and then playing popular tunes while the audience sang along. Le Pétomane retired from show business in 1914.
Just the other week I had to have an infected sebaceous cyst removed. It had been drained a couple of weeks earlier but fluid was still being discharged. After the area was numbed a deep cut was made to remove the cyst; infection oozed from the wound and the room was filled with the foulest smelling odor. There has to be a reason why we are disgusted with the odor of wounds, bodily wastes and fluids, and dead bodies. Maybe it’s for our own good; to keep us away from infection and disease. It’s safe to say that some bowel movements are really smelly. There has to be gobs of bacteria in human waste. The dunny should be far enough away from the house that you feel at ease choking a few after finishing off a piping hot fry up; one where you doubled up on the black pudding, fried kidneys, and mushrooms. Inside the house you would have to open a window, spray several cans of air-freshener or light a collection of scented candles. Outside there is only the scent of the wisteria.
In our current frenzied digital universe we are endlessly connected through texting, tweeting, or instant messaging. If only we could throw the digital switch and spend some quiet time alone; an unconnected time for musing about life and the universe. Inside the house the television is always blaring, the smart phone buzzing to signal a text, and the tablet beeping to announce a new tweet. The cacophony of the digital landscape is all we hear. The outside dunny is a cone of silence; it should be far enough away from the house so that the tablet or smart phone shows no connections available. Ducking out the back for a while should provide the quite time to muse about the solitude of silence; a rare gift in our digital age.
I recently decorated a birdhouse using a retro back to the seventies flower power design and then hung it in a backyard tree. I keep checking from the kitchen window to see if any bird has made it a home. I have started to sit outside; silent and motionless watching the birdhouse. And I’ve noticed a collection of other insects and small creatures that have made the backyard their home. We often take for granted the nature that abounds in our own backyard. At this time I am not a committed backyard birder but I did check out the cost of a comfortable chair and entry level bird blind from L.L. Bean: $60.00-$100.00. The outdoor dunny makes a superb blind to discover and watch the birds and other creatures in the backyard. Darting off to the dunny will deliver a couple of hours for backyard birding; it is an instinctive place to spend several hours and become one with nature.
The annual Australia Day dunny race is is held at Aussie World on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Teams battle it out dragging outdoor dunny’s, with someone sitting on the throne, towards the finish line. The winners get a toilet seat trophy; and the title of Dunny Race Champions of the World. I think it’s hard to have a world champion when the races are only in Australia so I need to start dunny racing elimination trials in the backyard.