12+ One fine mid-October Sunday, I returned home from my morning walk to be greeted with the news our annual council clean-up was on Monday. After previous clean-ups, I thought we had nothing left to throw out, and I looked forward to a long day of writing. Until I had another look in the attic and shed!
Instead of writing, I spent the day clearing out a depressingly large pile of junk. And I arranged the items neatly on our verge, like a shopkeeper displaying his wares. Because I hoped someone would recycle our unwanted goods and chattels before they got crushed by a garbage truck.
My earliest experience of council clean-ups was when I moved to Sydney in the early 1980s. I lived in a shared house in Bondi, and all my bedroom furniture — desk, drawers, wardrobe, bed (but not the mattress!) — was recycled from verge side piles.
Over the years, I retained a keen interest in council clean-ups, unearthing other items of furniture and occasional treasures. I found a lamp for the desk, bookcases for my books, and a 240-CD carousel tower (now full!). And the "treasures" weren't just for my benefit. I refurbished a Fussball table for my nephew and a guitar for my niece.
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And when Uncle Robert became a dad, I browsed the piles with renewed vigour for toys for my son. I found Hot Wheels cars, Transformers and Lego. His first basketball hoop was recycled from a clean-up, as were several bikes.
Like Father, Like Son
It seems my son inherited his father's compulsive council clean-up gene. And as he grew, so did his obsession with the verge side piles. I even nicknamed him Magpie!
The zenith of my son's "clean-up collecting" was in 2017. That weekend his haul included another desk lamp, antique maps and Japanese prints, a 1949 Singer sewing machine, and a drill press. The keen-eyed reader may have noticed it among the items I put out for this year's council clean-up. And I'm pleased to report someone recycled the drill press (again!) before the garbage truck arrived.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
The mature, middle-aged me has become less material. And I no longer greet the annual council clean-ups with the same excitement as a kid going on a treasure hunt. Instead, as that mid-October Sunday proved, they've become a chore.
However, there is one item for which I still share my son's enthusiasm for clean-ups: books. And this year, I recycled a small selection from a cardboard box on a verge. Some of the books I've read and others I haven't. But I felt it was worth rescuing them all from the garbage truck.
One of the books in the box was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which I haven't read). I later discovered someone had scribbled notes inside the book and stuck post-it notes on various pages, including this observation:
"Literature is a destabilising and subversive force."
In my opinion, it's the same with council clean-ups. Once a year, they destabilise the "new is good" creed of consumerism and subvert the ethos of conspicuous consumption.
Council clean-ups allow us to rummage and recycle, be it a bed, a Fussball table, toys, bikes, a drill press or a pile of books.
© 2020 Robert Fairhead
N.B. You might also like to read another Tall And True blog post I wrote on "recycling", Repurposed Writing (August 2019).
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.