By Ali Webb
The inner west certainly knows how to seek out trash and turn it into treasure… but are we the only region living and breathing this refreshing view on pieces of the past?
I purchased an original 1960s plant stand in South Melbourne during a lunch break this week. It was cute, well priced and I loved it straight away. I was with a bunch of work colleagues who giggled at me as I tried to get it on the tram to take it back to our Southbank offices.
There were loads of questions from everyone: “You actually paid for that?”, “Why did you buy that?” “What is it?”, “What are you going to do with it?”
No one really understood the plant stand or the fact that I had paid $20 for a ‘rusty piece of metal’.
I thought I was sitting on a pot of garden gold.
I carried the stand through Southbank on my way home, dodging the judging stares while trying to avoid cutting someone’s arm with the rusty leg. When I swiped my Myki at Flinders Street, I became an awkward mess as I juggled my laptop, handbag, magazines and lunch box with the plant stand. The Myki Man shook his head at me begrudgingly and let me through the wider access point.
I took the plant stand on the escalator down to the Laverton train platform and found a spot out of the way to stand with my retro treat. A kid kicked it accidently and kept walking like he had accidently kicked an empty can.
My train to Yarraville arrived and I hopped on with the stand and instantly felt eyes on me. A woman offered me a seat and asked me about the stand. “Where did I get such a fine piece?” she asked. A fellow passenger piped in, “how much did you pay, they’re worth a bit?” I told them my story and they both nodded in appreciation. The people around me were interested. One man even picked up the stand and inspected it closely. $20 wasn’t bad they all agreed. They were aware of plant stand love. I was on the right train home.
What is it about people of the inner west who love and adore vintage, recycled goods and self-made fare? I know it’s not just me.
Looking around our local suburbs are some of the greatest second hand lands from the classic favourites: Vinnies in Newport, Salvos on Koroit Creek Road, Savers in Footscray, Green Collective in Yarraville right through to the treasure hunters gem box: One in a Mill in Newport, The Lost Ark Restorers Barn in Willy, the kooky vintage store on the corner of Princess Highway and Barkly Street, just down from the grave stone maker, and my favourite, the eccentric Diamond Dogs vintage clothing store in Seddon.
But it’s not just second hand stores that are embraced by the inner west. Walking my pooch around the neighbourhood is like watching house porn. I take note of the recycled restored furniture on porches, the veggie patches thriving in front yards, the sound of chooks clucking in the backyard, the baskets hanging on fences offering free rosemary/lemons/limes/figs/oranges you name the season, there’s always something available. I look for the anodized planters, the metal trikes, the letter boxes created with recycled tin in the shape of a kookaburra, the church pews, the macramé hangers, the house numbers spelled out in letters, the vintage door knockers and umbrella stands. I love them all.
The Inner West Buy Swap Sell Facebook group now has over 20,000 members, most of which enjoy looking for a bargain or selling items to make money. There’s now even an Inner West Vintage and Retro Facebook group which offers great second hand treats at great prices, but you have to get in quick as someone’s trash is always someone’s treasure. Retro gems are picked up in seconds.
Are residents inspired by each other? Or are there other people out there like me who enjoy the hunt, the storytelling and the surprise of finding such a cool, unique item that means so much straight away?
For me, it’s always about the hunt. When I step into Diamond Dogs I’m immediately attracted to a pattern or a style that stands out and I hope and pray that it’s in my size (there’s never two when it comes to vintage, unless you find bookends).
When I case my local op shops, I head to the crockery looking for small indoor plant pots (my latest obsession). In the past it was vintage trench coats and mod dresses, nowadays it’s Richard Scarry books and bib-n-brace.
It doesn’t matter what your second hand treat is, whether it is a chair, a pouffe, a cane magazine holder or a cement frog statue, the best part about a retro find is how you came to find it. Perhaps you brought it home on a train in peak hour.
I’d love to know your favourite retro hang out.
Ali Webb’s discoveries of second hand lands can be found at www.houseofwebb.blogspot.com.au
Photos by Paul Large