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Ode to the demise of hard rubbish


All be upstanding for a minute's silence in honour of the demise of a great Australian institution: our local council has announced the end of what I grew up calling 'hard rubbish'.

Hard rubbish

No more will householders conjointly pile their rusted Hill's Hoists, cracked paddling pools and mildewed three-seaters on the nature-strip. Like so much else, the disposal of bulky waste items has become an individual affair. A discrete phone call, a private visit from the 'resource recovery' people, and it's gone.

According to the council's website this new approach will 'result in cost savings, alleviate entire streets presenting bulk waste, deter scavenging, improve amenity', and 'reduce healthy [sic] and safety risks associated with scavenging'. But what profit is there in such clumsily-expressed gains, if in the process we forfeit something of our suburban soul?

Hard rubbish! From childhood, I've had a soft spot for it. The excitement of strolling the street looking for anything that took my magpie eye. The imagination-stirring possibilities of this bicycle frame or that tea-chest. Never mind that most of my great finds had been thrown out for good reason and ended up being out the front of our place six months later. The thrill was in the hunt.

As an adult, my enthusiasm for what the council calls 'scavenging' has become the source of many beautiful and useful items. A 1950s wooden coffee table, two director's chairs, a filing cabinet, and a plain but serviceable 12 foot bookcase that fits exactly beneath the living-room window.

Plus the bits and pieces for 'upcycling': the clothes drying rack turned into a trellis for the snow peas, the bottles-cum-bud vases, and a plastic geodesic dome that I really must get round to covering in chicken wire as we're getting the hens next week.

That dome remains the pinnacle of my finds. We almost had to forfeit it, as it was far too big to fit in our station wagon and there didn't seem a way to disassemble it. In the end, my partner and I loaded it onto the car roof and drove the three blocks home at walking pace, each with a hand out the car window tightly holding on to our prize. 'Healthy and safety risks' indeed.

Almost as satisfying as finding treasure among another's trash was having your own trash recognised as treasure. One of the rituals of hard rubbish was to regularly inspect your ever-diminishing pile and keep the household abreast of development. 'Someone's taken that tyre swan, love!'

Clean out time was also a social occasion. It got strangers talking. You'd be in the front garden dead-heading the roses when a car stopped and a man jumped out to enquire about the age of your cork tiles or whether there was any life left in that barbecue. How many romances, one wonders, were sparked over a wheelless barrow and a roll of mouldy carpet?

But the biggest loss will be what the council boasts of as a win: 'alleviat[ing] entire streets presenting bulk waste', by which I assume they mean that 'hard rubbish looks ugly'. And it does. But ugliness can have its place. At clean out time, we literally brought to our doorsteps what we would rather put of sight and mind.

Hard rubbish symbolised the costs of our throw-away consumer society while going a small way towards recouping some of them. We made do, we upcycled and we reused, saving countless tons from landfill. And just maybe, as we picked our way down the footpath, dodging last year's TVs and toys, we contemplated our relationship with stuff, our addictions to getting and spending, and the unsustainable burden all this has placed on our planet.

Oh, well. In an era when we speak of houses as property rather than homes, perhaps hard rubbish has had its day. It leaves patches on our low-maintenance grass and blocks access to our three-car garages.

But let my objection be recorded for one final, philosophical reason. In essence, hard rubbish was a reminder that the satisfactions material things give us can only ever be transient. That when death or infirmity comes, even our most prized possessions will be piled on the nature strip, at least metaphorically, and that there are advantages in learning to hold lightly to the things we have before nature strips them from us for good.

Sally ClokeSally Cloke is a life-long student of theology currently researching how ritual can help combat consumerism.

Image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: Sally Cloke, hard rubbish



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Existing comments

Love that last sentence about "learning to hold lightly to the things we have before nature strips them from us for good" ...one last hurrah for "Nature Stripping" please!

Teresa Martin-Lim | 23 September 2015  

Beautifully expressed, thanks, Sally. I liked your final comments about our consumerist society. Somehow living more simply is the only way our planet will survive.

Peter Dowling | 23 September 2015  

What a delightful blend of the whimsical and the profound, and what an advertisement for being "a life-long student of theology".

GJW | 23 September 2015  

'What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed.' Thank you Sally.

David B | 23 September 2015  


Peter | 23 September 2015  

I've only quite recently begun to appreciate the hard rubbish collection, but I do now, largely for the reasons Sally suggests. I can see I'll probably be mourning it soon in my own area. Experience tells me that people from Sally's area, for example, will begin quietly dumping their rubbish in areas where the Council still collects it. Then the local Council will see the financial rewards in stopping the collection, too. Selfishness spreads...

Joan Seymour | 23 September 2015  

Nice article. Poetic, entertaining and unexpectedly philosophical :)

Paul | 23 September 2015  

What a great reflection! What a great piece for students of the English language. Capitals, commas, colons and the dreaded apostrophe. In a nutshell - I think this article nailed it. 10 ex 10

Ron Rumble | 23 September 2015  

Quite right! Another bi-product of this system is that an Eastern suburb that WAS pleasant, is now littered with piles of waste almost 52 weeks a year. The place looks like a tip permanently and there is a BIG fine for scavenging. Overall not a great outcome.

Mary Kelly | 23 September 2015  

Love this, Sally. We are in the process of dealing with the outcome of a very close friend's death - and some things should be out on hard rubbish.. But we don't have it here as a ritual anymore either.

Kathy | 23 September 2015  

I thoroughly agree. Good on you Sally.

Jean Sietzema-Dickson | 24 September 2015  

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