“You can’t throw that out, it’s a collector’s item … ”
There is a stage in life that a whole generation of Canberrans is in the thick of, and that is caring for their elderly parents, and their homes full of treasures.
I use the term treasures to encompass lots of different things, some items being of actual value (if Nan’s got some flying ducks those things can be worth a fortune), then some things are not treasures as modern society would see them, like the mug that Pop always had his morning coffee in.
Why, oh why, did Nan keep all this stuff for so damn long, when really 80 per cent of it is actually junk? The answer is pretty simple really.
Australians who are now in their 80s and 90s lived through the wake of the Great Depression.
For those of you who wagged history or economics in high school, the Great Depression was the worst economic downturn of the industrialised world, the stock market crashed, unemployment skyrocketed, people stopped spending, we couldn’t export, and importing was too expensive. The babies of the 1930s were born into homes with almost nothing and learned to survive by working together and being conscious of the high value of what we now consider to be everyday items.
Just as the economy started to recover, World War II consumed the Australian way of life, and while as a nation we were able to export more goods than ever before, the 20s and 30s babies were now entering their teens or early adulthood, they were still on rations, and many had to answer the call to help their country by going to work from an early age, or going to war.
The 50s and 60s offered something entirely new to young adults and their families in Australia. Compared to their parents who survived the Great Depression, these guys were working hard, playing hard, and spending hard, buying those flying ducks, and building their project homes. The collection started, it was hard-earned, it was an impressive display of Aussie success.
My Grandmother actually wrapped all her trinkets and treasures individually in Glad Wrap. Things were wrapped and then placed on the pelmets above the windows. This was to protect the treasures from dust, and the possibility of being broken or touched by grandchildren with sticky fingers. Every decade or so she would set about the task of Glad Wrap renewal.
We would ask her if we could help her sort through them, to get rid of some, and she would say “no! One day they will be collector’s items!”
This is a woman who had nothing growing up, she lost her dad to ill health when she was 13, leaving her mum and her eight brothers and sisters to fend for themselves, in some of the most difficult economic times ever experienced. She grew up to have a home all of her own, where each of her three children had their own bedroom, and her modest brick home in Weston Creek was decorated by the mementos of a lifetime of hard work. Of course, she protected her treasures, in her mind, if she ever needed to, she could sell them for a small fortune, or leave them as a legacy for her children and grandchildren.
Unfortunately for us, the legacy is actually more rich in nostalgia and sentiment than actual riches, and we are all now blessed with the privilege of flicking through every book for loose $5 notes from 1994 and having to determine if this teacup is actually valuable, or if it’s a knockoff, which it probably is. Gran moved out of her place, which is now my home, nearly 5 years ago, and yep, I still have some bloody teacups under the house because I just can’t bring myself to get rid of them because, who knows, maybe one day, they will be worth a fortune …
Thank you to the family of 27 Ernest Street for providing me with the inspiration for this piece.