Mid Summer is close when the cicadas start singing.


The Australian summer is now buzzing with hot days following hot humid nights. The restless tossing around with whirring of fans, I get woken up by an early light that’s causing an orange tinge around the trees outside. It brings back memories of many summers ago when I was sixteen or so, sleeping outside on the concrete path leading from the back-veranda to the outside dunny. (For outsiders, a dunny-can or dunny is an outside toilet of earlier times.)
The day time temperature was over 40C and the night not much less. The mosquitos were murderously bloodthirsty but the coolness of lying on the bare cemented foot-path beckoned, and concrete won.

The dunny was an Australian toilet before sewer was installed. In the haste of accommodating hundreds of thousands of post WW2 refugees and migrants flooding into Australia, the installation of sewers by the ruling Governments were not a prime consideration. Bulldozers were roaring over the country-side as far as the eyes could see, building roads, and making way for sub-divisions on which to build houses. Own home was the Australian dream and the priority. My mother back in Holland had this dream about Australia of having a house with a real bathroom. A house with an outdoor bathroom wasn’t on in her horizon, let alone a toilet whereby all urinations and defecations were done in a drum which would be collected once weekly by a ‘dunny-man.’ The dunnies did not have water taps!

This job of collecting the dunny can was a much coveted profession. It entailed (through many years of traditions) many lurks and perks, not least were the short work days. The faster those cans were collected, the earlier the dunny collectors could knock-off to go home. The collecting was always very early in the morning before the steaming heat would make the stench of the job very challenging, almost impossible, even for the hardiest. The only requirement was to be strong and able to hoist those cans on the shoulder and able to make a run for the truck on which the cans would be placed in, rows after rows. No slackness would be allowed. By ten o’clock in the morning the men would be home for a shower and a change of singlets. I remember those blue singlets well. They had runs of browns stains. There were rumours of some of the dunny-men to have formed dalliances with lonely widows or divorcees. The mind boggles, but love overcomes all.

It was, while as mentioned before, I was prostrate outside on the cool concrete during the late 1950’s or so, finally asleep, when the dunny-man arrived. Without as much as a side-way glance he ran past me, collected first one and then the second one ( we, with six children were a two pan family) , one at a time. I remember the slushing. We accepted it as normal and part and parcel of having migrated in quest for owning our own home.

The cicadas will soon make their presence known. A small chorus is practising already while I am penning this. The kookaburras are keenly waiting for their appearances when the cicadas will start clambering cautiously above the soil. They will start their arduous climb back onto the eucalypts. Many will make it for the cycle to continue. Many will feed the Kookaburra too.

Yet, their singing goes on.

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20 Responses to “Mid Summer is close when the cicadas start singing.”

  1. Happy Go lucky Says:

    An accurate description of the sewer “system” in those days. Don’t know if the influx of the many migrants played a part in it being so primitive. I remember reading an account of the NSW sewer authority unwilling to install sewer pipes. It was for a new housing development proposed by Mr Düsseldorf, CEO of Civil and Civic in a part of Sydney with much sandstone. From memory it was around the middle harbour area.

    After he proposed that the company instead would install proper piping, the water board was embarrassed and decided the installation of the required pipe work could after all be installed by them.

    Not only that but it wasn’t till the 70’s that the labour government had the sewer installed to Palm Beach Sydney and many other areas.
    Ah the good old days were so colourful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      They sure were slow in installing sewer in our neck of the woods. Stormwater even today gets mainly washed into the ocean together with tonnes of plastic. The water from roofs, laundry and inside wash basins were collected in underground clay pipes leading it to the front of the houses in open ditches. This would fertilize the grass and much verdant greenery ,hence the name ‘nature strip.’

      You know of course that the little boy on the photo is you, tending the cabbages. You loved gardening already then.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Therese Trouserzoff Says:

    Takes me back Gez ! I don’t remember when the sewer came to East Hills, but I do recall the miracle that it was.

    I do remember the insane heat – pre airconditioning – and the poor man’s evaporative cooling – which – although it did cool when the humidity was low – came at the price of a really noisy fan and the drip drip drip of water through the wood shavings matrix.

    I also remember the cold of winters out there. The crisp carpet of white frost on the grass tracking my footsteps to school. Shorts and long woollen socks. Gloves and home knitted jumpers.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Nicely put, Therese!

      Our Mum’s joy was overwhelming when after many years her dream of having a real bathroom with a real flushing toilet became a reality.

      Many years before that, Dad made an adjustment to the inside of the outside dunny whereby he cunningly made a small square hole into the fibro wall which was perfectly synchronised with the downpipe outside leading rainwater to the front ‘nature strip’. It was the invention of a genius. It became known as the OSS. (Oosterman Sanitary System)

      As there were six males in the Oosterman family, even two pans weekly wasn’t enough. At least it allowed the males to use this invention to urinate though this hole to the outside world instead of inside the pan.
      It was illegal but the local shires were powerless when many other families with a preponderance of males did the same.

      For years after, males congregating around barbeques turning the King size prawns while lubricating parched throats with brown lager, used to regale my dad’s invention. It became the stuff of legends.

      I wonder, Therese, if that system (OSS) ever came to your region seeing you were only two stations up from where we lived?


  3. shoreacres Says:

    This may be the point of the year when the differences between us — meteorologically speaking — are at their height. Last night, we reached a low of -4C. This morning, after I thawed the chunks of solid ice out of the bird baths and refilled them, it took all of a half hour for them to refreeze. Tonight, we’re supposed to get even lower, and I do believe even the ficus (wrapped in frost cloth and with a light bulb to warm it a bit) is going to get to come inside. The living room already looks like a jungle, so why not?

    Liked by 2 people

    • shoreacres Says:

      ps: I was going to mention how fond I am of the cicadas, and how I look forward to their appearance, but it may be that my brain has seized up in the cold.

      Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Winter here in The Southern Highlands too can get cold with – 4C not unusual. Right now in South Australia a heat wave of +40C is slowly creeping North to our region, with today +32C forecast.


      You might like to read some poems and short stories by one of Australia’s best poet and writer, Henry Lawson. He describes Australia better than anyone that I know, especially during those earlier years when Australia was being settled by white men.

      Of course the real Australia is the country of the original inhabitants, the aboriginal. The idea that Australia was being settled for the first time by white men is contentious and many say we should not have ‘Australia Day,’ (26th of January) celebrated on the fact of first settlement by the landing of Captain Phillip and his white men. This country was already settled for thousands of years.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. algernon1 Says:

    My parents moved from Bondi Junction to the wilds of Hornsby shortly after I was born. Hornsby then a country town had little in the way of sewers maybe close to the town centre. We had an outside dunny until they managed the pump out septic in the mid sixties then the sewer in my teenage years. We lived on a battleaxe block and dad would wheel the pan up the driveway (then dirt) for the dunny man to collect.

    The dunny cart reminded me of a ditty of my childhood:
    The municipal dunny cart was filled up to the brim
    The Municipal dunny man fell in but couldn’t swim
    And as the man was sinking and sinking like a stone
    He heard the maggot singing there is no place like home.

    There was a lemon tree that didn’t fruit that much next to the septic tank. When the sewer came and the tank no longer needed it was filled in. The lemon tree after that heaved with fruit.

    Dad still lives in the house and the outdoor dunny albeit sans dunny still stands leaning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Good one, Algy.

      Last time we looked at our old house in Revesby, the outside dunny was still there.

      The asbestos sheets outside of both dunny and house were either removed or/and cladded over with aluminium weatherboards. I now am reminded of a very funny movie ‘Tin men’ with Danny Devito.
      He had shortened the yard stick in order to get paid for larger amounts of material when measuring the jobs. A total scam.
      His friend declared him a genius.

      I imagine many a poem to have originated while people sat on those dunny drums. It was stuff of folklore and somehow we still feel nostalgia for that past, no matter how awful it was.


      • algernon1 Says:

        Its still in its original state and fibro with a fibro roof, Gez complete with vines of some sort growing over it. Cut them away and it most likely would fall down. I recall practicing my letters with some creosote dad had left there for a fence with one of the many neighbours. He of course was none too pleased.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. gerard oosterman Says:

    Yes, Algy,

    There is a lot to the Australian Dunny. Have a look at these.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Oh well, Gerard. Anyone as old as we are and who lived in “primitive conditions/ areas knows about so-called bathrooms. Ours was a small building with a two seater. Why a two seater, I have no idea since there were only four in our family. The waste was shoveled out about every 2-3 months, put in a wheel barrow and then dumped in the field and then covered with soil. At night we had what my mother called a slop bucket and when I was old enough it was my job to carry that to the special place in the field and using a hoe I had to cover all with soil.

    But I find you dunny very funny. The things we learn from other bloggers. I just get the best entertainment. The reading is educational and hilarious.

    Those dang cicadas here in Texas start cranking up around August with a deafening chant. My son says the sound makes him sad and it does the same thing for me. Have no idea why,. They are especially annoying beginning in late afternoon.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Ivonne.
      The old days were a sanitary nightmare. We now live healthier lives. I too once shared a two seater. It felt pretty normal then.
      In Holland we had public urinals for men, which often were very ornate cast iron affairs. One could see from outside if there were any vacancies by showing the lower legs of the men standing there. As far as I know there were none for women. Odd, isn’t it. A man’s world which is unfair and wrong.

      During public music festivals there often aren’t enough toilets and after the music stops there is a run for available public toilets. No one cares if it is for male or female, they just all run for it.
      We were camped under a huge tree once which had so many cicadas giving such a deafening noise we had to move camp elsewhere.
      Apparently the noise is to attract a mate. How a female can distinguish between one noisy cicada from another beats me.

      Nature is often so amazing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • petspeopleandlife Says:

        You’re right about the cicadas singing to attract a mate, I just know that some people love to hear all the ear and brain jarring noise but it really gives me the blues. I grew in the country and remember hearing them. Now they give me the heebee-jeebees. It gives me a melancholy feeling.


  7. bkpyett Says:

    You have captured those times so well, Gerard. I didn’t know that was why the grass was called a nature strip! I love the cicadas, it reminds me of my grandmother’s garden in the hot summer. Of course we had them at home too, but somehow her garden was more magical. I do appreciate having an inside lavatory.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you, Barbara.

      We have a plague of white cockatoos screeching all day long. Huge swarms of them fly about stripping trees when they settle down.

      They fly erratically, seemingly without direction. It might well be some complex mating ritual. That could explain the directionless flying about.

      Love rarely follows a straight path.


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