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Hoarding and its discontents

  • 19 September 2016


When the skip arrived and a cheerful young bloke named Troy backed it into our tricky, narrow driveway with insolent ease, I knew the game was up.

Months of sporadic, amiable discussions had now reached a suddenly irrevocable conclusion. Our agenda — what to do with 'hoarded' papers and notes, drawers of never-to-be-worn-again clothes, children's picture books and abandoned Lego, decades old back copies of magazines — was called to order by a higher power and my filibustering and equivocations abruptly ended.

And so, out came boxes, drawers, long-forgotten suitcases sheltering in out-of-reach cupboards, diaries, note books and typewritten letters of lost or indeterminate relevance. Not to mention the photographs of an unrecognisably youthful couple and their several small children none of whom had given any indication of the towering height from which in later years they would look down on their parents ...

The trouble is that to decide what must go and what can stay you have to actually read documents, correspondence, notes and random marginalia lest you consign to the waiting skip some personal or domestic gem or irreplaceable apercu or forgotten but vital document (yes, yes, I know: if it's long forgotten how can it be vital? Well, it just can.)

And it was in this frame of mind that I encountered a 22 page typed blow-for-blow account of a massive split in the department in which I spent much of my working life. As Vincent Buckley memorably wrote, 'God knows, English departments are strange places ...'

It's not that I'd forgotten this long-running disaster, but the fine detail (well, using 'fine' loosely) was fascinating to recall — and amazing: how on earth did we reasonably intelligent people get ourselves into such a mess? It took me a couple of hours to study this item before deciding that it must not be thrown out.

I then salvaged some credibility as an anti-hoarder by summarily removing sheafs of venerable bank statements, overdue notices and old newspapers but was again stopped in my tracks by a remarkable find at the bottom of a box of books — a neatly bound, 35 page document entitled 'The Writers Train — 1992: Production Itinerary'.

I had often fondly recalled the couple of weeks I spent on the Writers Train, a literary adventure dreamed up and brilliantly realised by the mercurial Laurie Muller, then managing director of University of Queensland Press (UQP).


"My contribution to the skip had been, so