He has travelled the globe; he has spent over a decade taking aerial photographs of eastern Australia; he has written a book about an Auschwitz survivor and he has helped build a Gambian school and a Nepalese orphanage. But I worry about Geof. To many he will now simply be known as the author of Toilets of the World.
So let me guess, you thought of doing this book while you were on the toilet? Yes, whilst in Tibet. I thought somebody’s got to show the rest of the world how lucky the West is with their toilet designs and the clean and polished porcelain that we have because it’s quite different in places like China, in particular, but also Tibet, India and Africa. There’s a lot of places in the third world which leave a lot to be desired.
You must have truly seen some of the world’s worst shit-holes. Which ones have scarred you the most? Cambodia on the Mekong Delta seems to be a pretty bad place as far as toilets are concerned. You wonder why you buy fish from the area actually, with so many waterfront homes just built over the river with ‘short long-drops’, as I call them.
And where’s the best place for dropping the kids off at the pool? We’ve got some of the best toilets here in Australia. Some are fantastic, with beaut views, lovely artwork, all sorts of things. But sometimes the best are the simplest. For example at the top of the world, at base camp on Everest. In fact anywhere in Nepal. The magnificent views you get from some of the loos are astounding. Also Ephesus in Turkey would be one of the more interesting ones. The slaves used to have to go in for the aristocrats. They would sit down and warm up the marble seats for them. They also had ponds in the centre where squawking ducks would camouflage the sounds.
A bit like Tokyo today. Do you think we’re too coy about something we all have to do? Yeah, I think so. But it is a very private thing, which is why I think a book like this makes light of it and it’s the sort of thing you would give to somebody close who has everything, to put a smile on their face.
What put the biggest smile on your face while ‘researching’ the book? The signs. It does make you smile and have a bit of a chuckle when you see some of the different things that people put on to signs, especially when they don’t understand the English language very well.
You’ve covered quite a few countries in your travels. Do you think the state of a nation’s toilets says anything about the country itself? The simpler ones in third world countries really just spell out the fact that there isn’t a lot of money.
How did people react when they found out what you were doing? I kept it relatively quiet. You don’t go taking pictures of toilets on a regular basis. There were other projects I was working on. You take pictures of interesting buildings, sometimes they’re palaces and sometimes they’re dunnies.
You must be a big fan of toilet humour? It depends how dirty it is.
No jokes then? Nah, not me.
Okay, guess I’ll skip the one about the Mexican strung out on peyote with only a jar of laxatives to keep him company then. Have you ever been caught short? There are times when you look everywhere and you think where on earth is a toilet in this village. You know that does happen and it happens to all travellers. Toilets of the World is out now for $9.95 from New Holland publishers.