By Mario Varricchio

    “Hey, what’s that? Stop! No wait! Actually keep driving….it’s just someone waiting for the bus. From a distance I thought they were hard rubbish” said my wife as we drove up the West Footscray end of Barkly Street. I laughed. Is this what we’ve become? Constantly obsessed with scanning inner suburban nature strips for the gentry’s unwanted stuff! Fortunately for the person on the kerb, they moved. They’ll never know how close they came to being re-purposed into a plant stand.

    Hard waste economy

    As students we’d boast about how our entire share house, except of course for the Radio Rental TV and fridge, was furnished purely from the street. Nowadays people boast about how that street find, with a little love and care, brought them extra Bali/Noosa spending money on a Facebook Buy, Swap (partners aside, does anyone ever actually swap anything?) and Sell site.

    Sometimes it looks like someone’s entire life plonked on the kerb side and I try and imagine the back story.

    This was the case recently near me. An old and lonely hermit had died and from my window I saw a couple of people emptying the contents of his shotgun shack onto the verge. I walked up later to inspect the old Sunbeam mixer I thought I spied and came home with a $2000 coffee machine.

    I recently read an article on Consumerism (the increasing consumption of goods) versus Materialism (the love of objects). Consumerism results in more hard rubbish yet Materialism helps to make it disappear from the kerb. That and council hard rubbish trucks.

    Hard rubbish has even spawned a street art genre. Recently around Footscray many would have seen the “TV is Rubbish” stencil on old abandoned idiot boxes and “Nothing else mattress” spray painted on the obvious. A washing machine hugging a melamine bedside table is another favourite.

    Gone in 60 seconds

    As a child I’d jump on my bike and ride it to a friend’s house where, like most kids of the day, I’d pull up with a skid on the nature strip where I’d dump my bike. Nowadays it’d be gone in 60 seconds.

    Not having a yard, I’ll often put things on the verge to brush it down or paint it. Just last week I’d pulled out an old sewing table to check the condition and a station wagon full of what looked like the Brady Bunch drives past then slows, all eyes on my prize. We stare at each other until the car stops and the driver winds down the window and starts to speak. I cut him off quickly, “it’s not hard rubbish mate, and I’m just clean…” They took off before I could finish.

    I’m even worried about my bins, racing out to grab them as soon as I hear the truck in case some rag and bone man nicks them but mainly before dog walkers “mark” them with their black bags of warm joy.

    I think of poor Barbara who took her German Shepherd on a drive, only to have to drop back home because she forgot to turn down the roast. She raced inside briefly but on returning to the car found the door (she’d left) open and her dog getting into a Subaru SUV across the road and taking off before she knew what had happened. Essentially, her faithful pooch had hopped out to check doggy Facebook and POW!! Off to the Lost Dogs Home with some concerned gun jumper. Calm down everyone, calm the fuck down!

    Hard luck collection

    A few years ago, in another city, I rang council to book a pre-Christmas hard rubbish collection. The pile I had was mostly trash, broken furniture and included two cool old TVs that I finally decided to part with. “Just pile it neatly on your nature strip and they’ll probably pick it up tomorrow” explained the council person I spoke with. I go out back to make a start, open my gate and notice that someone has mowed my usually unruly nature strip. I look around and notice how neat everyone’s lawns around me are also. I begin to suspect that they’ve even swept the road. Shrugging my shoulders I get stuck into designing and constructing my rubbish pile. The lawn on the nature strip looks so good that at first I feel guilty but then gently place the first few pieces of corrugated iron and wooden pallets down. Then I start piling up the junk, finishing with the two televisions. One an old 70s Thorn colour TV which I place down gently then I put the other, 80s portable TV on top.

    As I stand back to admire my sculpture, Tom my neighbour walks out his door and stares open mouthed at my creative rubbish pile. “Tom! Hey you want one of these TVs? One man’s hard rubbish is another’s treasure you know!” I say quickly and excitedly. Although I notice that he looks shocked by my pile, I continue to add to it. Tom turns and goes inside shaking his head. I shrug and continue until I have a 2m by 1m basic mound as per council requirements. I survey the street before I go inside and wonder why so many cars are pulling up. As I turn to enter my gate I see a family pull up right in front. The door flings open, just missing the broken all-in-one 80s stereo I’m throwing out. They all hop out in their Sunday best and greet another family doing the same. They gather and after a few air kisses and greetings they enter Tom’s gate. As the last adult male enters, he stops to look at my pile. Instinctively I prepare to joke with him about my trash but recognise his look of disdain.

    It suddenly dawns on me as to why my lawn looks like the 9th hole at Augusta and why Tom appeared upset by my rubbish pile. He was throwing a Christmas party and obviously wanted the street to look fantastic. And it did, except for my 2m tall hard rubbish pile next door. They took it away the very next morning but not before I’d taken back the two televisions.

    A year earlier, the same good neighbour had booked a hard rubbish collection and since he didn’t have much invited a few of us to add to the pile. We did and on collection day they took it all, except for poor old Tom’s original pile.

    A good rule for approaching items or pets left on the nature strip is to think of them as luggage at the airport or push bikes out front of a hipster bar. Ask yourself these four questions: Does this obviously belong to anyone? Can I wait a while in case the owner turns up? Is there an obvious reason it could belong there? Do I need it? If your answer is No, Yes, No, Yes, then take it! But remember, if it moves, perhaps leave it.

    Check with your local council for hard waste collection procedures.

    Mario Varricchio is co-proprietor of arts-focussed café ‘happymaree’ in Yarraville. He cooks, he writes, he draws and is the taker of photos. He also talks. (And he now mows his own lawn.)

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