Annagram: The best dunny reading of all

What kind of dunny reading do you enjoy? Do you head for the smallest room with a newspaper or copy of ‘Hello”?

Ours ranges from a Dictionary of Ridiculous Words to The Wisdom of Prince Philip (a very slender volume) and assorted comic books.

You may not spend enough time in there to indulge; but when the door is firmly locked against me, and chuckles are what I can hear, I know that someone is enjoying the best dunny reading of all.

I have been a fan of Footrot Flats from the mid 1970s, when I began collecting Murray Ball’s books.

The shenanigans of  slapdash Wal, his conservationist friend and neighbour Cooch, Aunt Dolly, Pongo and Rangi, as seen through the eyes of the Dog, have cheered up many an otherwise ordinary day, taken in small doses when the only refuge was the dunny.

When I began reading the cartoons, our dunny was still a little shed out the back of our home in Wyndham. It could have come from the sketchpad of Murray Ball, as could our home, a grand old collection of weatherboards and tin, with water tanks leaning drunkenly out the back; the washing line that we needed a map and compass to find, a chookpen that was a fine example of recycled water tanks, orange boxes and wire; and a slab barn with a permanent lean that blew down one day on top of the chookpen, plunging the inmates into darkness and making them think that the end of the World had come.

Add to that a cow with curly horns, a wayward horse, turkeys that perched like vultures on the fence, and a succession of cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and mice that the children brought home; and a Man of the house with incredible energy but a total lack of organisation, and there was enough material for a comic strip of our own.

We knew the hyperactive intelligence of Border Collies, although ours had to confine their herding instincts to chickens and children. We had an equivalent to Major the Pig Dog in my brother’s German Shepherd, Titus, who terrorised the village from our front verandah, but who was unable to deter the Tofu man from delivering his product through our back door once a week.

We had Tom Cats that seemed to be able to outwit fate, like Murray Ball’s indestructible Horse, until one day they would vanish and be seen no more.

Our children fell in and out of love, succeeded and failed in sport, and suffered acute embarrassment at social occasions. They involved us in spats with other children’s parents, and disowned us at school events.

Along with everyone else in Wyndham, we suffered whatever nature threw at us, from Spring gales ripping the side of our house off to floods that sent a torrent in our back door, through the central hall and out the front door; or a mass hatching of white ants in a heat wave in the same hall, so that the floor was awash in insect wings, rather than water.

Our giant pumpkins were eaten by rats, drought took care of most crops we planted and snakes insinuated themselves through our back door and curled up in the children’s bean bags, to be mistaken for rubber counterparts and bounced on.

Perhaps that’s why I loved Murray Ball’s creations so much – they reflected the lives of country people everywhere.

I not only gathered and gave away several complete collections of Murray Ball, I sent Footrot Flats to Canada, the US and England, to share the pleasure that they gave me.

His creations helped give me the impetus to write about my own experiences in a less than perfect home.

He will live on in our dunny, and that’s the highest accolade I can give any writer.

Vale Murray Ball 1939 – 2017.


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