Some decades ago some developer bought up a passel of single fronted cottages in Camberwell. The plan was to tear them down and provide a carpark for a new supermarket or retail complex or some such.
There was one little old lady who said “hell no, I won’t go”. No amount of money was enough, because she was not interested in money. She had lived in the house all of her life and, although many of her friends had passed on and she had lost her “community” she insisted she was too old to move and restart her life somewhere else.
For years there it stood, her tiny little weatherboard house smack bang in the middle of a huge carpark, defiantly “giving the finger” to developers. I wish I knew her name, or could find a photo.
This carpark is the home of Rotary’s famous Camberwell Sunday market. Camberwell is a nice suburb, and the market attracts a huge number of potential buyers who are actually prepared to buy something if they like it.
Setting up a stall at a good market is a great way to promote a new product, like a gourmet chutney, or artworks, or photographic services. It’s a chance to market stuff to a very specific demographic.
I haven’t been to that market for a very long time, but back in the day there were some stall holders who had piles of what looked like crap but which appealed to people for various reasons. In a long established suburb like Camberwell, some of the crap had nostalgia value - set designers would come looking for anything from kitchen appliances that no longer worked, to old tools from a particular era.
It was also a market which helped me survive for months, one year, when I was struggling to find a decent job. Living only a few minutes’ walk away, it was easy for me to queue up before cock-crow and grab an “unbooked” stall.
For months, my flat was knee deep in crap. It would have made a great setting for a doco about hoarders only the crap I had was not crap; it was my stock in trade. Acquiring stock was easy: there were always stall holders having a once only clean up around the home. They carted their stuff to the market and there was no way they were going to take home anything that hadn’t sold. They never offered me money to help them dispose of the rubbish, but they were usually happy to give me their left-overs for nothing.
Jim Cairns was there every Sunday, trying to flog his books. I suspect he was quite lonely, and really looking for someone to talk to about any of the burning issues addressed in his books.
One day I made the fatal mistake of setting up a stall at a northern suburbs market, held on the grounds of an old drive-in picture theatre.
A man who had booked three stall spaces opposite me pulled up at about 7.30 am driving a large station wagon, and towing a trailer big enough to carry a car.
I had not seen such a huge pile of non-biodegradable rubbish in my life, nor have I seen one since.
He removed the tarps holding his ‘stock’ down in the trailer, put the tarps on the ground, and proceeded to unload the ‘stock’ and spread it out on the tarps. By about 10 he had unloaded the trailer and the station wagon, then sat down on a folding beach chair, and poured himself a cup of coffee from a huge thermos. He then opened his ‘lunch box’ and pulled out some sandwiches. At about 11 am he started loading all the crap back into the car and the trailer.
All of that effort netted him about $40. I won’t say “only” $40 because his takings were about 4 times the size of mine. There’s a different type of customer in the northern suburbs.
He wasn’t in it for the money, he explained. He collected the crap to annoy his wife. She would shoo him out of the house on Sundays, telling him to get rid of it. This was his way of getting permission to spend a day by himself.
He was a born people watcher, and grinned from ear to ear from the time he arrived until the time he left.
Amongst the detritus spread out on the tarps, some woman had found a piece of brass chain – the sort used to attach plugs to sinks in Victorian bathrooms.
She picked up the chain, examined it, fondled it, held it for a while, then put it back down. After three laps of the market, she seemed committed.
“How much?” she asked.
“20 cents” said the trailer man.
“I’ll give you ten” she said, reaching into her purse for a coin.
“No, 20 cents,” he said.
“It’s only worth ten cents” she countered.
“Oh no,” he corrected her, “that is actually worth 40 cents. Even 20 cents is too cheap.”
She put the chain back down, stared at it for a while, then tore herself away. Two more laps of the drive-in market, and she picked it up again.
“30”, trailer man said.
Her eyebrows shot up. “You said 20 before!” She sounded aggrieved.
“It was an investment. I held on to it for a while, and it is now worth more than it was before.”
Trailer man had a ball that day. Chain woman never did buy the piece of chain, but I bet she was kicking herself later. She really was convinced she should be able to put one over on him. No doubt her self-confidence was shattered, that day.
I discovered, that day, that having a stall at that particular market was pointless. But I really enjoyed myself, and the company of trailer man.
“No point to bring anything good here,” he explained. “Here, they just want shit. And still they won’t buy unless they think you are stupid”.
In the Franger area and, in other less sophisticated suburbs than Camberwell, regular traders do the rounds of garage sales on Saturday mornings, bitching and moaning and haggling over ten cents for stuff they can sell at a profit at a Sunday market.
There are some that move in packs – while there are only one or two householders setting up or selling, a swarm of 5 or six will arrive an hour early, and lift as much as they can for nothing.
I’m all for people being careful with their money, but if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a scab. Another one thing I can’t stand is a tea-leaf.
So we’ve learned to just put crap out for the first hour or two of a garage sale. If somebody knocks it off, good riddance. By about 9 am the people coming by are having fun rummaging, and willing to pay a bargain price for something half way decent if they want it. That’s when we bring out the better ‘stuff’.
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Another way people acquire stock is to follow hard rubbish collections from one suburb to another. Some people smash open old TVs or PCs because there are small parts from which they can salvage bits of copper or who knows what. There is one couple who come well equipped - while the chappy whips out his electric screwdriver and dismantles appliances, his chappette loads their ute or van with panels and parts, presumably for sale to scrap metal merchants.
These teams tend to specialise – knick knacks, flower pots, retro clothing. I think it’s good that this stuff can be recycled, and find it silly that it’s against the law to remove stuff from a hard rubbish collection. It’s the careless way some of them spread trash and rubbish all over the place that’s objectionable, and it’s this trashing of a street that ought to be illegal, not the recycling end of business.
All we had to dispose of this year was a dead microwave, which disappeared after about two hours.
What astonishes me is the amount of furniture people dispose of. Patty O’Furniture, for example, that’s no longer the latest fashion. Beds and dining suites. Lounge suites bought at a good price not so long ago, upholstery still as new, and with no wear or tear because it was once in the home of an older, possibly lonely relative.
In between collections, some people use “the corner”. A broken office chair, for example, can be plonked at “the corner” and within two days someone will have taken it. There is a rental property on “the corner” which is an eyesore, so the abandoned rubbish doesn’t look out of place.