Lennie LowerLennie Lower’s Annual: A Side Splitter (Sydney: National Press, [1944]), pp. 109-10; originally: “The Grocers Ask For It,” Smith’s Weekly, August 26, 1944, p. 9. More of his political writing is here.

It is not often, these days, that you find a group of citizens sticking out their necks and asking to be controlled by the Government, but it seems that the Australian Federation of Retail Grocers has got that way.

They want to be licensed by a Government-appointed committee and they want to be controlled.

This amazes me; but I think that it may be a cunning move to get in early for a set of controllers of their own, and not some second-hand mob who have been retrenched from the Wire-netting and Post-hole Allocation Department.

Now, it would seem, is the time to hop in for a job as a Grocer Controller.

It should be an easy, pleasant job.

You just stroll into the local grocer’s shop, and the grocer says: “No. We haven’t got any. And, if we did have any, it’s only for regular customers.”

“Haven’t got a licence, eh?”

“Licence? You’re not …?”

“I am the Sub-Deputy Grocer Controller.”


“Yeah! That’s me! And, if you don’t want to finish up in an institute for uncontrollable grocers, you’ll produce your licence and give me the following information: How did you become a grocer?”

“Well, it was like that …”

“What degrees, if any, did you obtain at the school of Grocery?”

“I didn’t get any. I’ve been in this business twenty-four years, man and boy …”

No diploma! Practising as an unqualified grocer. You know what that means? How many tins of mustard have you got parked under the counter?”

“I haven’t had any mustard since last Christmas.”

“Don’t lie to me, man! You’re in bad enough already!”

“Well, I’ve just got about a teaspoonful mixed in an egg-cup in the kitchen.”

“Mixed? With what?”

“Just a little water, sir.”

“Ha! Selling watered mustard!

“No, sir! It’s just for my own use. I don’t sell it.”

Hoarding, eh? Man, this is going to cost you plenty. Have you got a licence to sell tobacco and cigarettes?”

“Yes, sir. Oh, yes, sir!”

“Well, gimme a packet of cigarettes.”

“I’m right out of them. Haven’t got a packet in the place.”

Trading under false pretences. I’m afraid I can’t overlook this. Why, man, you’re nothing but a viper!”

“Yessir. I’m sorry, sir.”

“In all my experience I’ve never seen a grosser grocer, and I’ve seen grosses of them. Are you a member of the Australian Federation of Retail Grocers?”

“Yes, dammit!”

“None of that insolence, my man! Do you know that I could have you stripped of your apron and drummed out of the grocery business?”

“I never thought of that, sir.”

“Well, it’s too late now. Get your hat and coat on.”

“But who’s going to look after the shop?”

“A representative of the Australian Federation of Retail Grocers will take charge. Get moving! I’m sorry for you in a way. Do what you’re told, and I’ll try to make it light for you. Your bacon-cutter will be confiscated, of course.”

“Do you mind if I say good-bye to the wife?”

“Is she a member of the A.F. of R.G.?”

“No, sir.”

“Scab! I’ll give you three minutes.”

And so the poor grocer is dragged away to do his three years in some quarry in the Northern Territory, and all because he wanted to be controlled.

Well, that’s the way we control you mugs these days. You seem to like it.