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.