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In March of last year as the pandemic and lockdowns took hold, a café in Mareeba, North Queensland came up with the novel idea of customers paying for their coffee with rolls of toilet paper. The nationwide hoarding of bum fodder had seen the café itself run out of the prized item and the owners saw it as one way of replenishing their stock. It was also a bit of a beat up and the kind of story that the tabloids love to run as their oddball click bait. 

Nevertheless the story was repeated in newspapers throughout the world including the Washington Post, who ran no explanation but simply stated that an Australian café was accepting toilet paper as a kind of currency. No doubt American readers conjured images of a family of four rocking up with a six pack to claim their coffee and breakfast spread.

The supermarket stampede for toilet paper during 2020’s lockdowns, both here and abroad was widely reported in the media. In Australia the standout story involved a group of burly women brawling over a trolley load of the stuff, the vision of which went viral and involved police charges being laid. The dunny paper Wrestlemania led to Coles and Woolies rationing the product and authorities assuring the public that shelves would soon be restocked.

Despite last year’s initial outburst of hoarding, it appears we have learnt nothing. Here we are in 2021 with another lockdown in NSW and again the supermarket shelves have been stormed, denuded in minutes of the precious sanitary tissue. So what is it that provokes these sudden bursts of acartohygieiophobia – yes folks it’s the morbid fear of running out of toilet paper, sometimes known as ‘endrollaphobia’.

It is something that psychologists have pondered over during the pandemic as they search for the deep rooted motives behind what is essentially an irrational obsession. One theory suggests that we have all suffered some kind of minor trauma in the past when it comes to running out of a roll. Whether we have been stuck in a public toilet or simply forgot to stock up at home, there is an immediate scatological dilemma.

Another suggests that at the announcement of a lockdown period we are immediately possessed by an illogical set of anxieties and feelings of insecurity that often override the real concerns – like masking up whenever required. Grabbing a 12 pack of Sorbent is akin to wrapping our misgivings in a kind of security blanket and maintaining our everyday normalcy. Hey, if you believe that bunkum, maybe it’s time you rushed out and bought a bidet!

One of the more unusual stories to appear from last year’s acartohygieiophobia epidemic was that of the Queensland family who bought 2,304 rolls online – mistakenly ordering ordering 48 boxes of 48 rolls instead of their usual box of 48. They estimated it would keep them in supply for the next 12 years, as well as guaranteeing a steady supply of lattes and cappuccinos whenever they were in Mareeba.

During the Great Depression in Australia, when toilet paper was not only scarce but unaffordable for many families, cut up pieces of newspaper were often a standard fixture in the backyard dunny. They did the job but often left an inky imprint of last week’s news on the hapless posterior. Whether anybody would resort to that kind of recycling today is open to question. The thought of having part of Miranda Devine’s venomous Daily Telegraph column imprinted, albeit in reverse, on my bum is just too nightmarish to contemplate!

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