12+ One fine mid-October Sunday, I returned home from the morning dog walk to be greeted with the news our annual council clean-up was happening on Monday. After previous clean-ups, I thought we had nothing left to throw out. And I looked forward to a long productive day of writing … until I checked the attic and shed!
Instead of writing, I spent the day clearing out a depressingly large pile of junk, which I arranged neatly on our verge like a shopkeeper displaying their wares. And I hoped our unwanted goods and chattels would be claimed and recycled before they got crushed by a garbage truck.
My first experience with council clean-ups was when I moved to Sydney in the early 1980s. I lived in a shared house in Bondi, and my bedroom furniture — desk, drawers, wardrobe, bed (but not the mattress!) — was recycled from verge-side piles.
Over the years, I maintained a keen interest in council clean-ups, unearthing other furniture and the occasional treasure. For instance, I found a lamp for the bedroom desk, bookcases for my books, and a 240-CD carousel tower (now full with my CDs!). 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 the drill press among the items I put out for this year's council clean-up (in the blog post photo). And I'm pleased to report someone recycled it (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 fine mid-October Sunday proved, they've become a chore.
There is one item, however, for which I still share my son's enthusiasm for clean-ups: books! And this year, I recycled a selection from a cardboard box on the verge. Some of the books I've read and others I haven't. But I felt it was worth rescuing them from the weather and the garbage truck.
One of the books in the box was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which I hadn'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, the same is true of 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 furniture, a Fussball table and guitar, toys and bikes, or a drill press. And, of course, a pile of books.
© 2020 Robert Fairhead
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 storytelling 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. In 2021, Robert published his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months, and in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months. And in 2023, he published an anthology of his microfiction, Tall And True Microfiction.
Besides 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.