“You Made My Mum Eat Poo”: The Coogee Bay Poo Mystery, 10 Years On
The memories are as fresh as a poo in a gelato.
The week of October 26, 2008, was a big one for news. Grant Hackett retired from swimming and Stephanie Rice was anointed Australia’s new Queen Of The pool. James Packer gave up control of his father Kerry’s beloved media empire, and Labor MP Kate Ellis was crowned Sexiest Woman in Parliament in a poll of her fellow MPs (really). And sure, some people may remember that week for the impending election of Barack Obama as US President, but to me, it will always be about one thing: The Coogee Bay Poo Mystery.
“You Made My Mum Eat Poo”
The story began a few weeks earlier, on October 5th, when Steven And Jessica Whyte, their children, and some family friends gathered at the newly refurbished Coogee Bay Hotel in Sydney’s east to watch the NRL Grand Final. The Manly Sea Eagles would defeat The Melbourne Storm 40-0 that night, but another off-putting spectacle would steal the headlines in coming weeks.
The events of that day are still not entirely clear, but what is known is this: At some point in the evening, the Whytes complained about the price of an adult serve of gelato ($19) from the hotel’s new restaurant. In order to keep the customers happy, the hotel’s manager hand-delivered a complimentary bowl to the table.
“The stench, the taste … I spat the food into a napkin and immediately I was sick.”
At 6.39pm, Jessica Whyte took a bite and quickly spat it out before wiping her mouth on a serviette. There’s no other way to say it: The “chocolate” gelato wasn’t chocolate at all. It was shit. Human shit.
“There were four scoops including vanilla, chocolate and hazelnut. At the bottom, there appeared to be chocolate,” Whyte told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time. “Greedily, I went for it ahead of the kids. Thank heavens I did. The stench, the taste … I spat the food into a napkin and immediately I was sick.”
As you’d expect, a mum eating human shit in a restaurant caused quite a stir. There was a “heated argument” which, according to the Herald, made its way back to the hotel’s kitchen.
Over the next few weeks, claims and counter-claims flew between the Whytes and the hotel’s management as the lawyers were called in. In a letter, the hotel suggested the incident may have been an act of industrial sabotage by a competitor. The police were called. The NSW Food Authority stepped in to investigate, and the Whytes took their own sample to the National Measurements Institute — an actual government body — for an independent analysis. Retired Federal Court Judge Trevor Morling QC was brought in to broker a peace deal between the warring parties.
Much of this was taking place quietly as the two parties looked to come to some sort of resolution, but then the shit really hit the fan.
“Human Excrement Found In Free Gelato”
Like so many great stories, Sydney Morning Herald sports journalist Andrew Webster stumbled across his great scoop through a combination of luck and a nose for a good yarn.
“I lived in Coogee at the time and was a regular patron of the CBH’s sports bar and TAB facilities, which would surprise nobody,” he told me. “One Sunday night, I went there for a couple of beers after coming off a really tight deadline for Monday’s sports pages.”
“I’d had two beers but was then ridiculously asked to leave after my thong got caught up in a stool. The bouncer said I was drunk, which I wasn’t. Anyway, I left.”
“Coincidentally, I had been commissioned a few days earlier by the Sun Herald to write a bar review of CBH, which had undergone a huge renovation. A week later, I wrote about their silly security staff. After the review appeared, I got a call at work from a man who had been at the hotel with his family on NRL grand final day. ‘You reckon you’ve had a bad experience there?’ he said. ‘My wife found poo in her ice cream…'”
“Human Excrement Found In Free Gelato” reported the Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, October 26, exactly three weeks after the fateful gelato was served.
Always able to sniff out a good story, Sydney tabloid The Daily Telegraph quickly jumped on the bandwagon, and overnight, the Coogee Bay Poo Mystery was an international sensation.
“The story went mad,” Webster recalls. “It went global because of how sickening it was. The pub went into damage control. There was a real belief that it could’ve been the end of the place.”
explaining this to people who are not from sydney is one of life's greatest joys pic.twitter.com/UuuqJvZ6fQ
— Tiger Webb (@tfswebb) August 24, 2017
It was a classic poodunnit. CCTV footage revealed the Whytes’ “moment of horror” when the restaurant’s manager personally delivered the gelato. The Whytes made several media appearances, insisting that this dispute wasn’t about money; all they wanted was an apology and an admission of wrongdoing.
“The real issue is that we were fed, as a family, shit, at someone’s pub,” Steven Whyte told radio station 2UE.
The hotel fought back, suggesting the Whytes were seeking up to $1 million in compensation, and questioning the authenticity of the sample. The NSW Minister for Primary Industries, the now-jailed Ian Macdonald, described the incident as “an issue of public importance”.
The public was, understandably, on the side of the woman who had unknowingly eaten shit. As the pub tried to carry on with business as usual, the growing scandal was taking its toll.
“It was odd. There was a lot of focus on the hotel,” John*, a former Coogee Bay bartender who was at work on the day of the incident, told me. “There were news cameras set up all around the hotel.”
“The bosses had a staff meeting about it a few days after. They said ‘we can’t really talk about it, because it’s all under NDAs’, but they warned us not to talk to the press.”
After weeks of media frenzy, the Whytes and the Coogee Bay Hotel reached a confidential settlement, reportedly worth $50,000. The crisis was over, but the legend would live on.
Coogee Bay Poo Bandit Remains At Large
When I first started researching this piece, a naïve part of me thought we might actually crack the case. Perhaps after a decade, a guilty conscience might give us the information we needed to find the Coogee Bay Poo Bandit. But no, he or she (and it is more likely to be a she) remains at large.
The NSW Food Authority confirmed to me that its investigation closed without a final resolution. The case is as cold as a bowl of freshly served gelato.
“While the analysis of a second sample supplied by the complainant showed weak traces of female DNA, this is no help in determining who may have contaminated the food,” reads a statement from 2008. “After three laboratory analyses, inspection of CCTV footage and interviews with all people involved in the complaint, there is still no definitive proof of whom or where the faecal matter came from.”
“While the analysis of a second sample supplied by the complainant showed weak traces of female DNA, this is no help in determining who may have contaminated the food”
NSW Police similarly pointed me to a statement from December 2008: “After reviewing all the information and evidence provided by the Food Authority police are satisfied that a comprehensive and appropriate investigation has been completed. The case has been suspended pending any fresh information arising.”
Understandably, the main players were reluctant to speak. The Coogee Bay Hotel declined a request to comment, and despite extensive efforts, I was unable to track down Steven or Jessica Whyte.
John the bartender remains impressed with the Poo Bandit’s ability to evade detection.
“There were that many cameras and that much security. If anyone was trying to do something, I just assumed they would have been caught. But no one ever was,” he said.
“I never heard a name of a person who might have been involved. It was strange. There was a lot of suspicion. Something obviously happened. But what actually went down, I’m none the wiser. You probably know as much as I do.”
The Legacy Of The Poo
Every person I spoke to — every media adviser, every journalist, every colleague, every former Coogee Bay worker — responded the same way when I told them what I was writing about.
“Oh yeah,” they giggled, “I remember that one.”
Ten years on, the Coogee Bay Poo Mystery holds a special place in our hearts. It’s the original poo story. The progenitor to so many other classic poo yarns, like the Brisbane Poo Jogger, or that girl who tried to dispose of a poo during a date and ended up stuck between two windows.
John says the memory remains as fresh as the turd in that gelato.
“That’s probably the biggest impact. To this day, if I meet someone and tell them I used to work in the hotel, the first thing they say is ‘are you the guy who shat in the ice cream?'”
We may never know who is responsible for the Coogee Bay Poo Mystery, but does that really matter? The important thing is the lessons we learned and the friends we made along the way.
Meanwhile, the hotel is still going strong. This Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the Coogee Bay Poo Incident steaming its way into the public consciousness. If you’re in the area, why not stop by? You can no longer order a bowl of ice cream, but you are guaranteed an afternoon of family fun.
Or you could wait until next Wednesday, October 31, when the hotel will be dressed up for a “frightful Halloween” event. “Prepare to enter the depths of hell,” says a promotion for the event.
So why not head down? You just might shit yourself.
Rob Stott is Junkee Media’s Managing Editor. If you’re the Coogee Bay Poo Bandit, slide into his DMs @Rob_Stott.
*Name changed to protect John’s identity. John was working in another part of the hotel on the day, and insists he didn’t shit in the ice cream.