I’m a Vegemite kid. I have always been a happy little Vegemite as happy as can be, until the rotten bastards took my Vegemite from me. When I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and still too young to dress myself, my mother had dressed me up in white frills and lace, then left me to my own devices while she went to dress herself. I played quietly. Apparently, too quietly. It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for. By the time my mother returned, ready to take me out, I was covered from head to toe in black goo, and still delightedly licking thick brewers yeast extract off the spoon.
Millions of Australians have grown up with this strange edible enigma, best on hot buttered toast, but also known to season a soup, flavor spaghetti, or serve as a pizza base. Vegemite is so popular, rock songs have been written about it! Having lived a long way from the island for the best part of three decades, my one tenacious connection to the motherland has always been Vegemite. I always throw a jar in my bag on my way out of the country and an essential part of my roots go wherever I’m going. Vegemite is a vital part of my mental health routine, maintaining a single thread of continuity throughout my life’s journey. When the jar runs out – usually after about a year of being sparingly spread onto home-made gluten-free breads as a special treat, there is not another thing I crave more from home. Home-grown delicacies such as Cherry Ripes and Old Gold Dark Rum and Raisin Chocolate, Baked Beans in Tomato Sauce and Mum’s Mango Cheesecake take a back seat to my favorite treat from Australia. During the rough times, a thin spread of deliciously tangy black goo over fresh bread can take me back to a happier place where life is easier, even if only for a moment. Treasuring each mouthful, savoring the salty bite of Vegemite is part of my therapy.
Living away for years at a time, in remote locales where most people have never even heard of Australia, much less Vegemite, where such a weird black sticky concoction is impossible to buy or reproduce in the kitchen at home, can sometimes be a burden too heavy to bear when the chips are down. It’s nice to have a jar of Vegemite at home in the cupboard. It represents so much; Vegemite is the nerve-calming breakfast toast the day of the big essay presentation at school, a Vegemite and cheese sandwich snack is the motivation to swim another twenty lengths of the Olympic pool at the daily training session, Vegemite on hot buttered toast is the girls coming home at 4am, still giddy and giggling from a night on the town, Vegemite on salty crackers is lunch on the beach with teenage friends. And when your Vegemite toast falls out of your hand, it always lands face down. Vegemite is not just salty black gunk. It’s a happy place. It’s somewhere I can go when life gets on top of me and there is no other escape. It helps keep me sane, and can be the first step out of a bleak low point; onwards and upwards, like a happy little Vegemite. Knowing all this, you may now empathize with my despair when the precious jar of Vegemite is removed from my bag and confiscated at the airport. My unopened, recently purchased, jar of Vegemite, packed to the brim with good mental health is suddenly gone.
“It’s brand new! Unopened!” I tell officials, who are clearly not deprived of any home comforts.
“It’s a spread. You can’t have it,” they chant, robotically.
“I need this. You don’t understand how important it is!”
“It’s illegal. You can’t have it.”
Vegemite is illegal? Since when? Are the authorities afraid I will kill a plane full of people with an overdose of vitamin B? If the airliner does crash, my jar of apparently illicit substances could actually mean the difference between life and death. This is the first time it’s been taken away. Again, the goal posts have been moved to suit whoever feels the need to micro-control the population in the name of safety. Australia has a paranoid obsession with safety. Taking my Vegemite does not make air travel safer. This confiscation is cruel and heartless, carried out by inhumane minions of the police state I once called home. It is the equivalent of taking away my medication for depression – in fact, if I’d been carrying those kinds of prescription drugs, they would have passed muster. However, I am devastated by the loss of my Vegemite. It is a massive blow to my fragile emotional state, which I already struggle to maintain in good condition without prescriptions. What kind of people rip a life-raft from the hands of the drowning? It is unnecessary. Suffering from a lack of home-comforts most of the time, that jar of Vegemite is all I have. There is no bean-curd vermicelli, no gluten-free spaghetti, no Cherry Ripes or Old Gold dark chocolate from which to take solace. Bereft, with nothing except a sour taste in my mouth at a ridiculous law that not only makes no sense but causes terrible suffering, I board the waiting plane.
I depart the homeland both disgusted and distraught. I grieve the loss not only of a simple jar of delicious toast spread but the only link that takes me home, transporting me to the other side of the Pacific Ocean with just a few bites, to soothe my anxieties, calm my fears, wash away my worries, and bring a smile to my face. As I take off, sans Vegemite, to leave the country where I have suffered the most over the past 47 years, once again it causes me indescribable pain. A lucky country it is not. Vegemiteless, I cross the Pacific to live in the boonies, to survive on hope and realize my dreams, this time minus my vital sensory connection to a happy place. I don’t know how I’ll cope when things get tough. I hope the Australian Customs Officer who took home my precious jar of life-saving Vegemite chokes on his toast.