a view on the loo

The president of the Loo-vre photo by Brendan McCarthy

While not wanting to be a potty mouth, the United Nation’s official proclamation of World Toilet Day seems like the perfect opportunity to spruik my favourite loo.

Admittedly, it’s a tad out of town, but truly this is no ordinary convenience.

The Warracknabeal and District Ladies Restroom Committee may sound like a title borrowed from an Alexander McCall Smith novel, yet this is a real institution of the Australian outback variety.

Time was when many country towns had similar restrooms – most under the auspices of the Country Women’s Association (CWA) or other existing voluntary organisations.

The Warracknabeal restroom, opened in 1928 in the heart of the town, is perhaps the last stand-alone private toilet with its own dedicated committee and membership – founded as a matter of convenience by women of the Wimmera.

Before the restrooms were built the women used to come in from the farms with their husbands, travelling miles in horse and buggies,” committee treasurer Laurel Schulz explains.

The men had the Coffee Palace, but the women were not welcome there. They didn’t have anywhere to go to feed their babies, change them or freshen up.

So some of the farmers’ wives got together and decided they would form a committee to raise funds for their own place.”

Since then the restrooms have served as a oasis for generations of women, only closing their doors for a brief spell in 2005 when the floorboards were replaced.

Now it’s the committee members themselves who are concerned about giving way.

We are all getting very old. The average age of the committee is about 80. I’m 84 and I’m still treasurer, but I would dearly love to retire,” Laurel admits.

Flicking through the visitors’ book it is clear how much this quaint amenity is valued by travellers, like the troupe of passing belly dancers who were so impressed they left a $100 donation.

Another visitor, Val, wrote: “So charming. I love to come in here so we always make Warrack a stop on the way through to Adelaide – even when I don’t really need to use the restroom.”

A more recent entry in childish looping hand says simply: “Awesome!!!!” Then, perhaps realising this may seem a strange admonition to a group of 80-somethings, adding a qualifier: “It means not bad.”

Now people do tend to laugh and snicker about toilets and the business thereof as anticipated by Singapore charge d’affaires Mark Neo before the UN Assembly last week voted unanimously in favour of his country’s proposal to make November 19 World Toilet Day.

But contrast the genteel Warracknabeal institution – or indeed the throne in your own bathroom – with the grim reality of the third world.

More than 2.5 billion people around the world do not have decent sanitation.

According to the UN, six billion of the world’s seven billion people have mobile phones — but only 4.5 billion have access to toilets or latrines.

And almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases which flourish in unsanitary conditions.

Whether the man of the well-appointed western house leaves the seat up is really a very first world problem.

Let’s lift the lid on the real issue.

* Photo by Brendan McCarthy. The president of the Warracknabeal & District Ladies Restroom Committee


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