THE People’s Republic of Moreland is pretty trendy these days. I know this because we now have junkies and Pilates. All we need is a juice bar and we’ll be completely up ourselves. Oh, that’s right: we do, and we are.
Right now, we’re excited too. It’s hard rubbish collection season or, as I prefer to call it, the Tightarse Festival. I’ll tell you something for free: if you want to get 60-year-old men walking four times a day, put on a hard rubbish collection. They’re gagging for a shuffle around the block when there’s a possibility they may find a replacement catcher for their mower, a piece of cyclone fencing to store in their shed and never use, or a broken carpet sweeper they can put out out for next year’s collection. (I can only imagine the look on the face of the wife as one of these men drags another air-conditioning unit the size of a Torana up the driveway, explaining: “Before you say anything, love, it’s for parts.”)
Come dusk, every man and his Crocs are out. Pushers, walking frames, scooters and even attractive people with glasses of wine are doing the hard rubbish shuffle. The participants in this Carnival of the Once Loved but Now Unwanted stroll by in a trance. Having a squiz, poking stuff with a foot and, after careful assessment, selecting only the best to proudly lug home. There’s an element of addiction about it, too. “Just one more street,” you hear people saying. “I hear Campbell Avenue has lifted its game this year.”
And there’s no shyness about it. Bold as brass. “Look at this,” said a man to me as he pried a smoked-glass coffee table with ornate brass legs from under a piece of corrugated iron. “Why would anyone get rid of this?” I don’t know, maybe because they don’t spend evenings listening to Neil Diamond, snorting cocaine and sharing crack-addicted hookers with David Hasselhoff.
A mate who grew up in Balwyn — beige one minute, beige the next — tells me the hard rubbish festival was very different in that biosphere. People thought of hard rubbish as, you won’t believe it, disgusting garbage! I know; they’re obviously sick. If you see offerings on your neighbour’s nature strip, she told me, or worse, bumped into neighbours putting it out, you avert your eyes and both pretend you haven’t seen a thing. What happens at the hard rubbish collection stays at the hard rubbish collection.
Lady Balwyn was once woken by her father at 1am and forced to liberate their neighbour’s unwanted dresser under the cover of darkness. The object in question was to be used as storage in his shed. She was allowed to go back to sleep only after helping her father paint it a different colour so that no one who dropped by to borrow a shifter would ever know. As he slung her $10, he muttered: “Don’t tell your mother.”
In the People’s Republic of Moreland, it’s a different ball game. For someone to adopt something from your hard rubbish is a great honour. If you appropriate something from someone else’s hard rubbish they are obliged, possibly legally bound, to liberate something from yours. If not, some serious loss of face can result.
“A filing cabinet from outside number 76? Sorry, son, three years back they turned their noses up at our disintegrated urine-soaked sofa, the split compost bin and the decapitated garden gnome after we’d given a good home to their dilapidated card table. We were humiliated. It killed your grandfather.”
When at a neighbour’s place it is custom to acknowledge any item of yours they have liberated. “Hey! There’s our buckled leopard-print toilet seat. It looks so much better here. Well spotted.”
A few years back we dragged to the nature strip a clapped-out stove covered in rancid sausage grease and full of mouse shit. When I arrived with the grill drawer a minute later there were three men with hacksaws going at it like the clappers.
And that’s why I love this place, , a suburb where old Aussies, young Lebanese families, student households, Italian nonnas, Greek yayas, Somalian youths, Indian cab drivers and latte-frothing lefties like me live side by side and covet each other’s rubbish. It’s United Colors of Benetton one day and an episode of Mind Your Language the next.
But maybe I’ve misjudged it, and this place is changing faster than I’d realised. When the wind blows in the right direction, you can smell the gentrification. Now I’m a little worried about the hard rubbish I’ve selected to release into the wild this year.
Every waking moment I’m perched at my front window hoping the rusted exercise bike, a three-legged plastic outdoor chair and a tangled beaded curtain will catch someone’s eye. So far, nothing. The citizens of the People’s Republic of Moreland must be up themselves. I blame the juice bar.