Thursday, March 29, 2007

The West, Saturday: toothpicks


In most restaurants you will find a small container of toothpicks sitting on the counter and while waiting for your bank to say, yes, you can rip money from this person’s credit-card, you can dig into your gums with a piece of wood.


Wasn’t always like that.

When I say restaurants, there must be a range at the top-end where toothpicks are frowned upon, maybe banned, where picking could lead to ejection, but I don’t go there.

The toothpick is an essential tool among my eating apparatus.

I have no idea how it started, the thing with toothpicks, but more than likely it was dad’s idea.

Dad loved nothing more than to consume a side of pig, with healthy portions of potato, beans, liberally splashed with apple sauce, followed by a family block of fruit and nut chocolate, then poke a stick in the mouth for the hidden portions.

He had plenty of spaces to store the uneaten bits and the probing could take up to an hour.

Mum didn’t appreciate it, not the probing itself, but the way he probed. Her style was more your dangling hand-in-front with soft finger thrusts accompanied by downcast eyes.

Dad had no shame: he had a lump of wood in his hand, there was food in there, he was going in after it.

Given there were four boys in the family, not surprisingly we all took after the manly dig and these days, after a good solid meal together, people sitting on either side shift their chairs to make way for the raised elbows.

It should be noted, by the way, that the toothpick has been around since BB, before-before.

According to Wikipedia, my choice for all important information, it is probably the oldest instrument for dental cleaning.

Not surprising.

You’re living in 567BB, you’ve just eaten a woolly mammoth and some of the wool is stuck between your back molars.

What do you do? It’s obvious. You grab one of the tusks, whip out your Swiss Army knife and whittle it down to a manageable size.

There is much to like about a good pocket knife, but the Swiss knew from the start that any knife worth its cut should contain a toothpick.

Not my favourite, the plastic pick, but handy in an emergency if there is no available wood, or all the old well-used picks left in the back pocket have broken or frayed too close to the end.

When it comes to favourites, I don’t mind the standard pine, but I am partial to sandalwood, marri, wattle, wild grass is always handy, but wandoo is a bit too tough.

Yes, I know, you’re still thinking about the bloke in 567BB with the ivory pick.

If you took the time to peruse the Wiki, or even add your personal knowledge to its massive database, you would know that the humble toothpick was not always made of wood.

Picks of bronze and silver have been found, sometimes buried with their dead owners, which suggests the pick may have been a symbol of prestige.

A long time after BB, BC and well into AD, toothpicks were sometimes manufactured as luxury items, well crafted, styled, enamelled and encrusted with precious stones.

It certainly opened my eyes and, as a consequence, I have changed my burial instructions to read: To be buried in the Bridgetown cemetery, facing north for winter warmth, along with various personal items, including his favourite toothpick, the one he whittled out of Japanese bamboo.

Some dentists, I know, frown on the toothpick, but only those who don’t realise the work it brings in.

I mean, if you dig around inside your mouth for 45 years with a piece of wood then you are sure to wear great gaping gaps between teeth, gaps any self-respecting dentist would love to plug. And invoice for.

As for me, even though I floss and use the very modern electronic round-brush technique, there’s still nothing I love more than a damn good dig with a lump of pine accompanied by the tongue and cheek double act.

As for those restaurants that don’t supply picks, no concern to me, because, like dad, I never leave the house without one.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A letter to the West Australian Premier and the Minister for the Environment

Dear Alan and David,

As you well know, I am a Bridgetown boy.

What might not be so clear is that I am a somewhat radical boy from a very conservative family.

My brothers are upset.

They don’t get upset very often.

My sister-in-law was recently on the front page of that wonderful publication, The West.

She hated being there.

But she had to, because Hester Brook is a vital water source for their farm.

Now her husband, my brother, Jamie, has penned his first ever letter to the press.

It frightened me.

Please read it.

It’s important.

And then, please, take courage, and do the right thing.

The right thing, not the politically expedient thing, the best thing for the future of lawn, but the right thing by the forests, the rivers, and the dairy, fruit and vegetable bowl, that are and is the Lower South West.



Jon Doust

My brother writes:

Our property was recently featured on the front page of the West Australian.
The article was about the Hester Brook which had stopped flowing. We grew up in Bridgetown and have lived on this property for 17 years. To our knowledge, Hester Brook has always been a permanent water course. We are well aware of how precious a resource water is and for years now have imposed our own very tight water restrictions, including buckets in the kitchen and laundry sinks and also the grey water, pumped from the washing machine, goes out for the garden. As with most rural properties, we do not have water piped to our property and must use the available water very wisely. We do rely on the water though for the stock, up to 100 head of cattle that we run on the property. Apart from two small dams, Hester Brook is the only source of water for these animals. It was to our dismay that we read the headlines in the West Australian today stating that the Government is going ahead with pumping water from Yarragadee so that the city would not have to have sprinkler bans. The “Suck it and See” approach that has been proposed, at a cost of $650 million, is flawed, especially when one looks at how the Gnangara mound has been managed. The water situation in the South West is already critical and lowering the water table further by the pumping of Yarragadee each year will have far reaching effects throughout the region, social, environmental economical.

Sue and Jamie Doust

PO Box 147

Bridgetown WA 6255

97 611985

17 March 2007

Monday, March 19, 2007

The West, Saturday: the beard


I recently grew a beard. It wasn’t the first time.

The first beard I grew appeared in 1972, the year I left the family’s south west retailing business to pursue a career as an aimless hippy.

That was a successful beard and kept me well hidden from those who knew me as a clean shaven, clean cut, ex-private school boy from Bridgetown.

It lasted 20 years. It was a handsome, ginger-fired, manly, extravaganza of hair.

Once I’d done with the hippy thing and found myself aimless on a university campus, the beard became a symbol of redness, of revolution, of alternateness, of intellectual intensity.

I did my best to live up to it.

This latest crop of face-hair, however, suggested none of the above and was an entirely unsuccessful growth.

It itched, it annoyed, it hid me from people I wanted to greet without having to explain that, yes, I was indeed Jon Doust, not some weird, goog-eyed perve who confronted people in the street with strange tales laced with personal knowledge and who frightened small children.

Ok, I can hear the question: Why was a bloke at your age letting his face go anyway?

Thing is, I’m not in the middle of a middle-aged crisis. There are no signs: no motor bike, no running off with a younger woman, younger man, canoeing trips down the Amazon, or late nights on ABC2 watching footy finals from the 1960s with a bag of twisties.

No middle crisis for me, no need, my entire life has been a crisis.

What happened was, my wife left me.

Not forever, but for a long time.

Not because she didn’t love me anymore, because she does, she can’t help herself, but because whenever I have married I have always married outsiders, foreigners, people from other countries, and, when there is a family crisis in their homeland, they have to go home. And rightly so.

I have always considered it important to marry people from out of town. Many people do, but, for the most part, they go to Manjimup, Donnybrook, Gosnells, or even Hyden.

Let us pause for a paragraph or two and allow me to tell you that my wife is now an Australian.

It took a long time, almost 30 years, but she made it, and made it with an obvious keenness.

What was it that changed her? A change, I might add, that forced a realisation: I am now more like these people I live with than those people I used to live with.

It was Roy Slaven and HG Nelson.

Yes, remarkable, isn’t it?

Hildegard watched Roy and HG during both the Sydney and Athens Olympics, laughed herself stupid, visited her grumpy homeland, and thought: Bugger, I’m an Aussie.

That was all it took, just two looks.

She realised then and there that there was something wonderful about an Aussie sense of humour, a real one, the one she now shared with my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, siblings and our Noongar mates.

It’s the one that helps you laugh in the face of all odds, of the thing that’s intimidating you, working against you: the drought, the budget, the idiots on the roads, the system, the lack of hot water, milk for the coffee and the inadequate public transport system.

All right, back to the beard.

When she left me, I decided I was not going to shave until she returned.

But Hildegard, a large and powerfully built woman, would not even allow me that pleasure. She issued instructions, through her solicitor, that I was to remove the offending hair well in advance of her return, or there would be no return.

Sorry, I was thinking of someone else.

But Hildegard, a slender, elegant and attractive woman, who looks ten years younger than her actual age, said that although she respected the symbol of her absence as a manifestation of my continuing affections, she would prefer I had it removed before her return.

Either that or go look for another foreigner.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Saturday's West Australian: Sydney Greenstreet


Before I start, I must make it quite clear, Sydney Greenstreet had nothing to do with the writing of this column.

He did not dictate it over the phone, in person, or slap me on the side of the head with it. He did not email it, send it around by courier, or arrange for it to be delivered by Peter Lorre.

Because of current controversies surrounding various issues, recipes and table settings, it is also important that I reveal all previous meetings, meals and toilet breaks I have had with both Greenstreet and Lorre.

Let me start with Greenstreet: I have never had relations with that man.

From time to time there have been vicious and uncalled for rumours regarded the disparity in our respective sizes: I am a weaselly man; Greenstreet is a fat man.

This has not affected our relationship in any way. We don’t have one.

I have never met him, heard of him, know what he does for a living and I most certainly did not buy a used car from him or anyone associated with him.

I don’t go to parties with him. I don’t know what he looks like close up, or from a decent distance, say five metres, or why he wears that stupid hat when he is inside a house, building, or place of investigation.

All right, there was that one time, when I thought I was going to a pyjama party at Humphrey Bogart’s.

When Humphrey rang he said all the “gang” would be there, but I thought he meant Lauren Bacall, Spencer Tracy, Edward G. Gobinson George Raft, Ingrid Bergman and Jason Akermanis.

I assumed we would be discussing up-coming projects, including a remake of The Big Sleep. It was to be called The Big Wake Up.

We all make mistakes. I made a mistake which, in hindsight, I probably would have made anyway, but I would have made it in the knowledge that I was making it, rather than the other way around.

All right, okay, then there was the fund-raising for my election campaign. As it happened, my nomination was withdrawn at the last minute due to something to do with my nationality, which I am sure will be cleared up when the papers are found, or my parents turn up.

As for the money, I understand it was absorbed by various bank accounts related to the organising body, or donated to a double-bass player with curly hair.

And now I think I should deal with Peter Lorre.

To be honest, it is very difficult to know if you are talking to him. I once spent 45 minutes on the phone before I realised it was him. His soft, sneaky tones make him hard to discern and hanging up didn’t help because when I went into the next room there he was on the carpet.

Six months and $4076 later, we thought we had him removed but the very next day my youngest discovered a small stain at the back of the house near the old septic tank.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to my neighbours, the people over the road, those who live down our side of the street, a couple of those on the other side towards the north east, not the others, on the south west, because of their failure to stand up and be counted over the curbing issue, which I won’t go into here.

I think that’s all.

As far as I can recall.

Now, let’s return to Sydney.

In fact, we tried returning to Sydney, to get away from Sydney, but it made no difference. The man has tentacles.

He said he had something that sounded somewhat similar and anyone who wasn’t with him didn’t have them.

Sorry. Just a second. The phone.

“Hello. Yes. Oh, Sydney. No, I didn’t know you still had a phone. What? No, mate, no, maaaaate, yeah, sure. What? The column? I’m writing it now. You serious? Editor? Of the whole paper? You could? Mate, Sydney, of course I can. We go back, mate. No, it didn’t come from you. Bye.”

Look, if you don’t mind, I’d like to start this again.

Before I start, I would like to make it quite clear, Sydney Greenstreet is an honourable man, an old family friend, a man I have looked up to ever since I have known him as a taller man than me and I think what is happening to him is a travesty.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

This time it’s personal!

The West Australian, Thursday, February 22, 2007

Monday, March 05, 2007

The West: Peter Foster


It is important that I get this off my chest, my relationship with Peter Foster, you know, the bloke who is awaiting trial on trumped-up charges in Queensland and recently escaped from the KGB in Columbia, or a country with a similar shape.

When I first saw him, form a distance, he certainly seemed accident prone, financially prone, people prone, mainly prone.

Later, I thought he was a good bloke with a funny looking head full of hilarity and some other stuff I couldn’t get a handle on, or there wasn’t a handle, I wasn’t sure which.

It was my father who brought us together. He was a butcher, well, he said he was a butcher, but he wasn’t, he was a small-arms dealer plying the volatile islands between a whole lot of other islands in the South Pacific.

At least, that’s what he said.

If he was alive today, he’d be so close to dead he might as well stay where he is, but if he was, I’d ask: “What did you really do, when you went away for months at a time?”

Mum used to say: “He’s on business for your Uncle Ted.”

Years later, when I told her about dad running guns, she denied it: “No, he meant gum, he was a gum-runner, a travelling salesman for Wrigley’s.”

When I was 12 he left for good and we never saw him again. Over the years I saw a lot of men around his age who looked like him, talked like him and I asked each and every one of them: “Are you my father?”

Not one replied in the affirmative, some of them ran, three cuffed me on the back of the head, two said, as far as they could remember, they were skiing in the Alps at the time and one swore it wasn’t him but he knew someone who looked just like a man who could be my father..

This is where Peter Foster comes in.

Recently, in another attempt to find the man behind the father I never knew, I sought out Foster, who was well known in Fiji as a medium sized, plump, flatulent man who had a habit of bringing people together, then turning them against each other.

I liked him because he spoke English with an Australian accent and ate peanut butter and jam sandwiches with a slice of banana on top.

Peter said he was a research officer for the British Secret Service Agency MI5, the RSPCA, or BHP, or he sold cheap jewellery to rich American tourists with big stomachs, skinny ankles and swollen necks. It was hard to tell.

He was exciting to be around because every day was a new day. He said he knew this for a fact because he made a point of watching the sun go down, then come up again.

I paid Foster hundreds to help me find my father. And then I paid him thousands.

Everything went well until he claimed he had uncovered a plot by the President of the United States to net all fish in the Pacific Ocean and transport them to Florida, where they would be trained to invade Cuba.

It ran in all the papers and then it ran us out of town.

Everyone was after us, the Americans, the Fijians, the vegetarians and we had to swim from Fiji to Vanuatu, which we did, with considerable help from a passing steamer.

The captain of the streamer was a man who looked a lot like a lot of men I had spoken to over the years, or someone who looked like them and as I dived overboard for the last 200metres, I could have sworn he said: “Your real father is the new Secretary General of the United Nations.”

When we arrived on shore, I asked Foster if he had ever worked for the United Nations. He said: “Of course I have. I was once a roving ambassador for UNESCO, with special responsibilities for nubility, proximity and gold bullion.”

Despite hundreds of emails, mobile phone calls and letters to MI5, I never heard from Peter Foster again.

Until this week. He rang and asked if I would get my father to arrange diplomatic immunity for him.

I said: “Don’t be silly. My father’s a butcher in Dalwallinu.”