“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





12 August 2015


Black goo and bad white spirit:
the Prime Minister's having
ridiculous Vegemite fantasies 

We're happy little Vegemites
As bright as bright can be.
We all enjoy our Vegemite
For breakfast, lunch, and tea.
Our mummies say we're growing stronger
Every single week,
Because we love our Vegemite
We all adore our Vegemite
It puts a rose in every cheek. 

Given the fascinating relationship between this country's government and what was once called the truth, Australians should not be startled to learn of the great Vegemite Bootleg Uprising of 2015.

It's bigger than the Rum Rebellion. And it involves ... drum roll ... race.

Our Prime Minister this week added his credence to the rumour that black Australians have been making alcohol from Vegemite.

The thought of original Australians devilishly conjuring your actual ethanol from the salty black paste Cyril Callister was hired to invent by Fred Walker in Melbourne in 1922 would have been good if it were possible.

Vegemite's made from the effluent and crud that comes out the side of big Melbourne breweries. It traditionally went into the creeks and rivers.

It's an environmental triumph.

In the outrage that followed the first rumours of dry black outback communities making bathtub bootleg from Vegemite, not one politician, advisor or hack bothered to find out whether indeed such alchemy was possible.

Guess what? It's not.

A bloke in the actual position of Prime Minister of Australia could have made a call, just perhaps, to enquire after the factual essence of the theory before he bellyflopped in.

Vegemite is made from dead brewer's yeast. Not dead brewers, but their spent yeast. They preserve it with salt, which kills all that dead yeast even deader. It contains bugger-all sugar.

You need live viable yeast and sugar to make booze. And you don't want salt.

Somebody ate the billionth jar in 2008.

Given the Australian yearning for intoxication, you could be forgiven for wondering why nobody worked out how to make booze from Vegemite before we went and spread a billion friggin jars of it on our toast.

I've always regarded that black brekky spread as a sort of revenge on John Barleycorn, who worked with Bacchus and Pan to give me the morning-after numbskull which the natural Thiamine (vitamin B12) in Vegemite helps to erase.

It's made from its cause, but in brilliant Zen counterpoint, helps heal the result.

Thiamin is essential for the survival of even the amateur ethanologist.

It's perpetual motion, the fantasy that makes booze from the barley and from its waste make more booze which is rich with its antidote, the very vitamin which helps the liver process some of this poison.

But the liver wears out.

Nuts! This all became a national hissy, but not one polly or hack bothered to research the bullshit. Only the diligent bloggers Beer Is My Friend and A Common Year put the facts on the bar.

Somehow, it seems, somebody told the Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion that Vegemite was being bastardised by renegade blacks on his very own patch, the Northern Territory. Or on Palm Island, which is a bit further away.

"Addiction of any type is a concern but communities, especially where alcohol is banned, must work to ensure home brewing of this type does not occur," Scullion preached. "Businesses in these communities also have a responsibility to report any purchase that may raise their own suspicions."

As if Vegemite was the biggest threat to the Territory.

Tricky. But our Prime Minister sailed with his bow doors open.

"This is a deregulatory Government and the last thing I want to do is to have a Vegemite watch ... because Vegemite, quite properly, is for most people a reasonably nutritious spread on your morning toast or on your sandwiches," he announced.

"What's important is that we ensure that remote communities, all communities, are being properly policed."

Policed, see.

No mention of them sensibly using Vegemite to ease whatever hangover they may have incurred. No thought that these dignified folks might be spreading the black goo on their brekky bread like big city whites.

The legendary Vegemizza: Satanika Berlingieri's wood-oven Vegemite and Northern Territory buffalo mozzarella pizza from the old Settlement Wines days

Just a thought: I haven't heard one politician ever complain about the abysmal quality of daily bread in the Northern Territory. 

Remembering some of the bread I've been sold there, I suggest in most cases you need to purge it over flame and then add the perfect Vegemite prophylactic to render it edible. It's blotting paper that falls to bits on your teeth. They call it Vienna White. I should sue for protection of the family name and give the Mayor of Vienna a call.

As for the orginal Australians? I dunno - I can't speak for those great cultures. I reckon better off heading bush to chew some pituri. At least that stems hunger, and puts meaning into vast horizons.

It was a white man in every sense, my uncle Robert White, who taught me how to use Vegemite in alcoholic drinks. He drank methylated spirits for twenty years. To swallow this shit, the methylated spirits novice needs to hide the poisonous methyl ingredient of metho, which is put into the pure spirit to make it even more terrible to drink. A metho addict until his death, Uncle Robert showed me that you catch fire if you attempt to melt the Vegemite into methylated spirits by warming them.

It's as mad as smoking crack and setting fire to your ether. Kaboom!

Instead, Unca Bob would pour boiling water over a huge dob of Vegemite in a mug, dissolve it by stirring, and then pour that black syrup into the gap he'd created in his metho bottle by slugging the first few fingers neat to make the space.

The vitamin-rich black doesn't easily amalgamate into the deadly white spirit, but it seemed all he needed was a coating of the former to ease the latter into his tattered gizzards. After the first few shots, the Vegemite was no longer necessary. His organoleptic sensories were anaesthetised by the spirit. His oesophagus muscles couldn't even vomit.

That is, of course decrepit and horrid. Unca Bob was not a smooth unit. He died of it. But he never died of Vegemite.

When I was a youth, and the ever-vigilant Jock Silverblade ran the Drug Squad, there were various panics about my lot finding stoned pleasure in things which couldn't easily be banned. There was the theory that some of us were getting off smoking banana skins. Duh. Somebody started a rumour that we were all tripping on nutmeg. Duh. There was the even more nuts fantasy that some were smoking cane toads. And then came the triumphant king hit: the sickest of my lot were injecting Vegemite in place of heroin. Gee whizz.

Little did they know. With our Vegemite sandwiches, we were eating magic mushrooms we picked on the Heathfield High School oval during morning recess.

Look at us now: a rose of bemusement in the cheeks of every little Vegemite, since we're sage and grey, and Jock Silverblade's up in heaven.

As for the Prime Minister ...


Moredsir said...

If only our pollies were as bright as bright can be...

Alan Salt said...

Your piece is the only trace of Jock Silverblade that Google can find. Rumour had it that he became addicted to morphine as a result of war injuries, and once free of it, dedicated his life to saving others from a similar fate.