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Stan’s Stuff - Dunny Angels

By Stan Stewart

I have two daughters, Michelle and Cathy. Both died unexpectedly, almost instantaneously – Michelle at age 33, and Cathy 52 years. They were living full and productive lives and the shock still remains. At the time of their deaths, we were living far away from them. That was very hard. During our years together, I argued with both of my daughters but mostly we were good mates. I miss them greatly. In a way I live to honour them. I think they would both approve of me writing ‘Stan’s Stuff’. But I can hear them both saying, “Don’t make yourself out to be a hero, Dad!”

I decided to write the above when I read about ‘Dunny Angels’ in an Australian news clip. ‘Dunnys’ are bush toilets. They started out being long drops. Then in country towns, the toilets had pans which were collected once a week. ‘Dunny Angels’ are volunteers (no pay) who help clean/maintain the toilets, at outback country fairs and music events.

It was to honour the memory of their daughter, Cassandra, that Chris and Judy Sims volunteered to clean the toilets at the ‘Big Red Bash’. That’s where they came to be named ‘Dunny Angels’.

The ‘Big Red Bash’ is a three-day music event that happens 30km from Birdsville on the edge of the Simpson Desert, 1600K from Brisbane. It is advertised as the most remote music festival on the planet. It is sponsored by JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). Ten thousand plus attend.

In 2016, Chris and Judy spent much of their time keeping vigil at Cassandra’s bedside. In the months before she died, Cassandra gave her parents some memorable advice. For instance, "If you're not dead, don't stop living."

Chris, her dad, had a reputation for doing outrageous things. Cassandra wanted him to keep on doing these kinds of things. Cassandra saw an advertisement for a nude bike ride in Melbourne and became insistent that her father take part. Chris baulked at the idea, but Cassandra kept on – “Do it Dad. Do it.” Cassandra lost her battle with cancer before the event, but to honour her, Chris participated in the Melbourne bicycle event named, “starkers”.

It was because of Cassandra and her advice to make their life count that Chris and Judy volunteered to clean toilets at the Big Red Bash. Along with some other ‘Dunny Angels’ they have volunteered to spend their days at the festival keeping the compostable toilets (no water used- after all they are in the desert) smell free and shining clean. How wonderful that must be for the 10,000 attendees to the ‘Big Red Bash’! By now Chris and Judy have been ‘Dunny Angels’ at many bashes.

Some people think they are crazy. But their volunteering is inspired by their daughter Cassandra. She wanted them to be fully alive and to make their lives count for good. Being ‘Dunny Angels’ fits this bill perfectly and through participating as volunteers in these bush events, they have made many friends with other volunteers. Despite what you might think, they feel well rewarded.

On my second summer visit to Hot Water Beach some time ago, I could smell the location before I could see it - smell the toilets I mean. The day was perfect, and the beach was crowded and the toilets were overflowing. Smelly effluent was dribbling its way down to the tidal creek. Despite this, impatient and urgent visitors to the beach queued to get entrance into a cubicle – any toilet cubicle.

Now that is history. Two new toilet blocks stand ready to efficiently and effectively serve the needs of the visitors. But for how long I wonder? I read that in the last few years seven hundred thousand visitors have annually made their way to Hot Water Beach. What about the future? It’s not unreasonable to project one million. Here’s hoping the toilets will cope! I doubt that the parking will.

Here is a straw in the wind. The Austrian small town of Hallstatt, which is a World Heritage Site, has just over 700 inhabitants - but gets up to as many as 10,000 visitors a day during high season. Now note this: Residents of Hallstatt are calling for limits on the number of daily tourists, and for a ban on tour buses after 17:00 local time. While tourism has been good for Hallstatt's economy, some locals say there are simply too many visitors.

Given a reasonably stable future, the time may be close when some kind of limits must be put on the number of daily tourists to Hot Water Beach. With one narrow road in and the same narrow road out, the facilities, including parking and the residents (around 100) won’t be able to cope for much longer. Tourists from around the world want to see and experience Hot Water Beach. But if numbers increase and access is unlimited, it won’t be just the toilets that overflow.

In closing, I keep on thinking of those Dunny Angels. Many of us have suffered devastating loss because of the death of a loved one. What do we do about it? I can think of two choices. Sit back, withdraw from life; or find some activity which will honour the one(s) we have lost. Dunny Angels forever!

Caption: Chris and Judy Sims volunteered to clean the toilets at the 'Big Red Bash' music event,

to honour the memory of their daughter.


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