By John Mikkelsen*

Moira Deeming, I have a confession to make … I crossed the line. You might not like what I did, but I didn’t know what I did when I did it. Honestly. Let me explain.

The storm seems to have abated somewhat over the huge lack of political judgement displayed by Victorian Liberal leader John Pesutto’s attempt to expel you from the party for the crime of defending women’s rights.

You never know what you might find in the local dunnies, that is if you know which one to choose. Don’t be in a hurry.

His move to sack you backfired spectacularly. You had dared to speak at a Let Women Speak rally in Melbourne which was gatecrashed by a group of masked Neo-Nazis who gave the Nazi salute on the steps of Parliament House after apparently being allowed entry by police.

It is now clear, Moira, that you had no connection with the ratbag group. Your expulsion was watered down to a nine-month suspension, with your boss Pesutto warning he would be keeping a close eye on you. If you fail to toe his narrow line, expulsion could still be on the cards.

This has effectively gagged you from speaking out publicly, but fair-minded commentators have pointed out that you were not protesting against “trans women” but upholding the right of biological women to face fair competition in sports and to feel safe in change rooms and toilets.

Fair enough, but back to the confession I have to make. I’m a male in every sense of the word, but twice in my life I’ve unwittingly invaded female public toilets – one of which could possibly rank as among the busiest in the Southern Hemisphere. You’ve probably been there too.

Maybe I’m just not good at directions or maybe I take them too literally. When I was spending a few months in Melbourne as a teenager from country Queensland, I attempted to catch a train at Flinders Street Station during the evening rush hour.

Unaccustomed to large bustling crowds, I was relieved to see a sign ahead and an arrow pointing to the underground platform where I could catch the train home to where I was staying, so I turned down into a long, tiled passageway.

I didn’t think too much about the people walking past in the opposite direction, who nudged each other, pointed and giggled – or why they were no men; strange, these Victorians…

Then the passage opened into a large room with mirrors and hand basins along one wall, toilet cubicles opposite, but no urinals. The penny dropped as squeals and laughter erupted among a score or more of women and girls of varying ages.

I blurted out “Sorry”, turned on my heels and ran faster than anyone has entered or exited that big female toilet block before or since – and that’s a long time!

Back at the entrance, dodging the crowds who knew exactly where they were headed, I looked up again at the sign and realised I had taken one right turn too soon.

Some might say that’s the story of my life and it’s how I ended up spending time in the southern metropolis during a round- Australia spearfishing road trip that encountered a few snags, sharks and road blocks …

But back to my confession, Moira, which also involves a tropical tourist island once famous for getting wrecked on.

Fast forward about 30 years and I’m a married man with three young sons. It’s my preference for cool and casual which lands me in hot water when I shout my wife Cathy to a weekend on what was then a thriving tropical resort on Great Keppel Island.

Actually it was a door prize at a function I attended, about the only thing I’ve won in my life, and we’re making the most of a break on this dream island without the kids and the pressures of running a busy newsroom. Everything is great until we rock up for the Saturday night lounge entertainment.

We’re sitting back sipping drinks and soaking up the live music when a bouncer approaches our table.

“I’m sorry sir, but I’ll have to ask you to leave and put on some appropriate footwear,” he says.

I look down at my feet resting comfortably in a pair of worn beach sandals and ask, “Aren’t these appropriate? This is a tropical island famous for getting wrecked on, isn’t it?”

“The rules are quite clear sir, you must wear proper shoes in the lounge at night,” he insists.

Now I’m ready to tell him just what I think of his stupid rules and that I didn’t think to bring shoes, but a withering glare from my soulmate makes me change my mind.

“Fine,” I tell him, and get up to leave. But I wait just outside until I see him at the back of the room full of people and the band, then return to take up a position with Cathy at a table against a wall. The only way he’d be able to tell if I’m wearing shoes is to get down on his hands and knees and look under the table. He doesn’t do that.

This dress code seems pretty ridiculous considering that during the day, guests are permitted to wander around in the dining room wearing next to nothing. In fact at lunch time I found it a bit hard to concentrate on the smorgasbord when a couple of shapely young things wearing bikinis made out of what could have been a few postage stamps leaned across the table from the opposite side.

“That’s custard you’re putting on your prawns and calamari, not mayonnaise,” my ever-vigilant wife whispers icily in my ear, just before a muscle-bound male in a brief pair of budgie smugglers makes his way towards her. (Budgie is not really the right word – this was more a young scrub turkey, neck outstretched).

Cathy forgets about me and the custard, then there is the embarrassing sound of cutlery sliding off her plate and hitting the tiled floor.

When we return to our table, we exchange looks of mutual agreement that neither of us will mention our momentary distractions.

So you can see why I’m feeling a bit rebellious about the ridiculous night footwear rule and defying the bouncer who continues to cast suspicious looks in my direction.

Arghhh!! which door?

But eventually nature calls and I wait until he’s out of sight before heading for the men’s room. Through one door and there’s a small room with another two doors. I open one and see a big mirror, a bench and several hand basins. Through yet another door and there’s a row of cubicles, but no urinals.

“That’s a bit odd,” I think as I’m using one of the cubicles, when suddenly the room is full of female voices, giggling and chatting loudly like a bunch of lorikeets settling in a grevillea bush.

Again the penny drops. This is not the men’s room and there are girls in the cubicles on either side of me, still talking loudly over my head. Somehow I’d opened the cleaner’s access between the two toilet blocks which someone had left unlocked.

I duck low and wait until I think the coast is clear before making a runner. But the adjoining powder room is still full of girls who laugh, squeal and yell at me all at once.

Then I’m out the door, the bouncer spots me, I wave frantically to Cathy and head for the nearest exit.

Outside in the cool fresh air she joins me and we agree to call it a night…

Honestly Moira, I promise to totally avoid change rooms and leave women’s toilets for women from now on, and if ever you join the southern migration to sunny Queensland, you’ll get my vote!

*John Mikkelsen is a former newspaper editor, freelance writer and author of the Amazon Books Memoir, Don’t Call Me Nev.