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How personal tragedy led these Dunny Angels to cleaning outback festival toilets

todayAugust 27, 2023 4

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One of the last things Chris “Bull” Sims remembers his daughter saying to him before she died was, “If you’re not dead, don’t stop living.”

It was 2016 and Mr Sims and his wife Judy had been keeping vigil by Cassandra’s hospital bed.

Their 42-year-old daughter had seen an advertisement for a nude bike ride in Melbourne and became insistent that her father take part. 

While Mr Sims admits he was something of an “outrageous” person at the time, he initially baulked at the idea of baring it all on a bike.

“She said, ‘Dad, do it, do it’. I thought [then], ‘Oh no, I’m not doing a nude bike ride’,” he recalled.

By the time the event rolled around several weeks later, Cassandra had lost her battle with cancer.

But Mr Sims did the nude bike ride, and it set in motion the bereaved couple’s odyssey of “outrageous” things, in dedication to their daughter and their promise of living life to the fullest. 

Becoming Dunny Angels

Three years later in 2019, Mr and Mrs Sims, from Goolwa in regional South Australia, took another leap of faith and signed on to volunteer at the Birdsville Big Red Bash music festival in outback Queensland.

Cassandra Christopher passed away in 2016, aged 42, from cancer.(Supplied: Chris Sims)

In true “outrageous” fashion, they opted to join the crew responsible for looking after the hundreds of compostable toilets throughout the event.

The crew, which over the years has come to be known as the Dunny Angels, is made up of paid staff and unpaid volunteers.

The angels keep hundreds of compostable toilets across the bash, and its sister event the Mundi Mundi Bash in far-west New South Wales, pristine in return for a free ticket.

Ms Sims said while it might sound like a bum deal, the work was not nearly as bad as some people thought.

“Everyone thinks we’re crazy for doing it, but we follow good hygiene, and we love that it’s composting, it’s ethical and everyone’s really well supported,” she said.

“If you come out to these festivals, you know you’re living,” Mr Sims added.

“Everyone comes here for a good time, and everyone has a good time [including] the people who are doing some of the worst jobs.”

In August, seven years on from losing their daughter, the couple returned to the third Mundi Mundi bash, 35 kilometres north of Broken Hill, with Mr Sims’ service chihuahua Ralph in tow.

The little dog has become something of an unofficial mascot for the bash, and the Sims have been promoted from volunteers to paid Dunny Angels.

A big Bash family

The number of people who sign up to keep the toilets — a music festival necessity — clean continues to grow every year.

Kathee Bowyer and Louise “Loo” Jeffery, also from South Australia, have volunteered at all three Mundi Mundi Bashes, based on a recommendation from a friend.

“He said, ‘You clean the toilets, they’re so clean, they don’t even smell’,” Ms Jeffery said.

“[So] we thought, ‘How bad could it be?’, and it’s actually the best job on site, I think.”

Two women in high vis jackets standing in front of a row of toilets holding toilet brushes pretending to sing into them

Louise Jeffery and Kathee Bowyer say they would recommend being a Dunny Angel to anyone.(ABC Broken Hill: Oliver Brown)

Ms Bowyer said she considered the Dunny Angels, and other festival volunteers, almost like a second family.

“To meet different people and hear their stories, where they’ve come from, what they’re up to, camping with the volunteers is great,” she said.

“I think my favourite memory is [ABBA tribute act] Björn Again in the first year … we were dancing, using our toilet brushes as microphones, with our brooms, doing the moves to Dancing Queen.

“People were taking photos and it was just hysterical.”

‘A breath of fresh air’

The camaraderie of the Dunny Angels family has helped Mr and Ms Sims through a turning point in their lives following their daughter’s death.

A smiling bearded man in a high vis jacket sitting in a toilet cubicle next to a drill holding a roll of toilet paper

Mr Sims says every festival they work at is an uplifting experience.(Supplied: Chris Sims)

“We wouldn’t work here if we didn’t really enjoy it … we’re self-funded retirees [and] we don’t have to work, but we just love coming,” Mr Sims said.

“It’s just like a breath of fresh air to me, and it’s a real part of modern Australiana, and that’s why I love being involved.”

“The people we work with have become friends, but also the patrons,” Ms Sims added.

“You get to have chats to people and share the journey, it’s great.”

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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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