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Chronicle of the NonPop Revolution


 
The Essay
Show #469
Vegemite
David Gunn

Lark A. Clobberworm was leading his charges, the San Luis Obispo (California) High School Drill Team, through an intense Friday afternoon practice, when they suddenly struck something soft and furry. On closer inspection, Clobberworm saw that it was a wallaby.

Some explanation is perhaps in order. First of all, the SLOHSDT was no ordinary group of young men and women who marched in synchronized apposition to the accompaniment of the school whaling band. Rather, it was a group of teenagers who had developed an interest in drilling--that is, deep-bore rotary drilling. Employing sophisticated gyratory-rotation technology, they were determined to drill to the center of the earth. Clobberworm encouraged them, but he thought the prospects of success were dim, indeed. After all, the deepest anyone had yet drilled was a little over 12 kilometers. That honor belonged to the Greater Murmansk Drilskitema, whose effort on the Kola Peninsula had used a record 835 drilling bits--drag bits to cut into the softer rock, roller bits to crush the harder rock, and hob bits to brew ale, smoke pipe weed and generally shun adventurous behavior. The San Luis Obispodians owned but eight bits, total. However, Clobberworm's students were nothing if not lucky. As they bored down through the western California strata, they encountered mother lode after mother's load of valuable ores, which Clobberworm promptly sold to willing commodity traders. From anthracite to carnotite, hematite to marcasite, taconite to Mennonite--the minerals flowed from the well bore like monkey pudding from a menstruating marmoset. The ores begot money in sufficient quantity to keep replacement drill bits likewise flowing.

After five weeks of boring--both present participle verb and adjective--the drill team figured it was approaching the record set by the Murmansk Drilskitema. But the Ronco Super Depthometer didn't indicate that it was anywhere near 12 kilometers. In fact, it didn't seem to indicate anything, and at last they had to admit that the device was defective. How then could they verify the depth to which they had drilled? Would the International Academy of the Deep blithely designate them the new recordholders without any documentation? Clobberworm knew that the Earth's core was made of cheese--a slushy amalgam of Brie, Camembert, Gorgonzola, Liederkranz, pecorino, Roquefort and magnetic Stilton. Therefore, as soon as the Ronco Curd-o-Gauge registered a rise in lactose enzyme activity, they could assume the drill had reached the eighteen hundred mile mark and the record was therefore theirs.

So when, instead of a stratum of cheese, the Curd-o-Gauge recorded the ingredients found only in a wallaby, Clobberworm deduced that they'd drilled all the way through the Earth and come out the other side. In Australia. And, from the color and caliber of the animal, to the Marsupial House at the Taronga Zoological Park in North Sydney.

While this was indeed a cause for celebration, the drill team at once realized that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals division of the I.A.D. would point to the wallaby's lethal puncturing, no matter its inadvertence, and move to discredit the entire project. So as not to disturb any more animals half a world away, the SLOHSDT slowly backed the drill out of the Marsupial House. It was slow going because, from their perspective, the drill was now upside down and turning anticlockwise. After a tense hour, the teenagers figured they had retreated about eighty meters from the Park, when the drill abruptly got stuck. It felt like it was wedged into an especially hard rock formation, and it wouldn't budge. Clobberworm dropped a litmus testometer into the hole, hoping that by determining the acidity of the rock, he'd be better able to decide what drill bit to employ. A day later, when the testometer reached the tip of the drilling mechanism, he deployed the litmus paper, and measured the reaction. The rock was ... yeasty. With traces of celery and onion. This was no bauxite or quartzite, no pyrite or Lucite. This was the bane of Australian geo-gastronomy. This was Vegemite!

Part vegetable dross, part parasitic arachnid, Vegemite was discovered in a waste bin in 1922 at the Fred Walker Cheese Company in what was then Eastern South Africa. Life had not always been kind to Mr. Walker, and he responded a year later by unleashing the product onto an unsuspecting public. For reasons not entirely clear, hearty trenchermen in the Cheese Company's immediate vicinity embraced the salty spread. But elsewhere, there was widespread revulsion and condemnation. On May 29, 1924, the Company and its environs--which were called Australia--were sent off to a remote corner of the South Pacific until it ceased making Vegemite.

Most Australians were all too happy to shun the conventions of the rest of the world. They started calling each other "mate" and added Balmain bugs and yabbies to their culinary patois. But eventually, others began to long for the company of the intelligentsia, which had diminished in direct proportion to the amount of Vegemite consumed. In 1925 these disfranchised people, calling themselves Vegelantes, raided the Fred Walker Cheese Company and spirited off all of the Vegemite in the plant, which they buried in a deep pit on the outskirts of Sydney--the rock-hard deposit that Clobberworm's student drillers had encountered.

But the Vegelantes neglected to disable any of the manufacturing equipment, and within a week, the plant was churning out more Vegemite than ever before. The vandalism had a backlash effect, too, as the offended Australian majority sent the Vegelantes packing to an even more culturally remote part of the South Pacific (i.e., Los Angeles, which was much further south than it is today).

There is just time enough to tie everything neatly together. Clobberworm was finally able to wrest the drill bit free of the impacted Vegemite. The San Luis Obispodians presented the bit with its yeasty patina to the International Academy of the Deep, which in turn awarded the teenage team the Deepest Drilling Medal. Los Angeles recanted its aversion to Vegemite and was allowed to move north to California. And this sentence concludes the beginning of the 469th episode of Kalvos & Damian's special Australian Rules New Music Bazaar, which today features a roomful of doco mates making a quid by photofying the conchy Kalvos.