Sell­ing a life­time’s col­lec­tion

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Rod Kil­ner

THE col­lec­tion of a life­time that in­cludes an­tiq­ui­ties, scu­pl­tures, art and fine fur­ni­ture is be­ing sold by lo­cal cou­ple Alex and Jenny Gruzdev.

The cou­ple, for­merly in­te­rior de­sign­ers and whole­salers in Syd­ney, have been col­lect­ing the pre­cious pieces for most of their 43 years of mar­ried life.

Mr Gruzdev be­lieves his par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in Chi­nese an­tiq­ui­ties stems from the fact that he was born in Shang­hai.

‘‘My mother, who lived in Vladi­vos­tok was forced to flee the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion in 1917, es­cap­ing by ship,’’ Mr Gruzdev said.

‘‘The first stop down the coast was Shang­hai, and that’s where mum got off and lived there for the next 27 years.’’

How­ever that changed with the World War II and the Ja­panese in­va­sion of the Chi­nese main­land.

Mr Gruzdev’s older brother was taken by the Ja­panese, they be­lieve to work on the Burma Rail­way, and was sadly never heard from again.

The rise of com­mu­nism and the ad­vance­ment of the com­mu­nist forces to­wards Shang­hai, the last city to fall, again forced the fam­ily to flee on the last ship to leave the city.

This time the first stop for him­self, four sib­lings and mother (his fa­ther had passed away ear­lier in Shang­hai), was the Philip­pines where the fam­ily waited to be re­lo­cated to Aus­tralia, the United States or Canada.

Aus­tralia was the win­ner, with the fam­ily ar­riv­ing in Syd­ney in 1949.

‘‘It was a tough time for im­mi­grants in those days, you had to sign a con­tract that bound any­one of work­ing age to work for two years any­where the govern­ment de­cided,’’ Mr Gruzdev said.

‘‘My older brother was the only one of work­ing age, and so he was sent to Burke, and worked on fenc­ing for his two years.’’

‘‘When I left school I wanted to join the mil­i­tary, in fact I had been ac­cepted for Dun­troon, but un­der­stand­ably my mother wasn’t keen on the idea, so I got a job in a ma­jor com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in fine fur­nish­ings and fit­tings.’’

And the rest they say is his­tory, with the love of an­tiq­ui­ties, in­te­rior de­sign, and fine fur­ni­ture be­com­ing a pas­sion for both him­self and wife Jenny.

A chance meet­ing with a Chi­nese man in their Syd­ney shop proved prov­i­den­tial.

They got talk­ing and dis­cov­ered the man was from Shang­hai, and he was in­ter­ested in set­ting up a busi­ness.

The Gruzdevs helped the man, who it turned out had fam­ily still in China, in the same line of busi­ness.

At the time the Chi­nese govern­ment was knock­ing down a lot of Bud­dhist Tem­ples to build hous­ing, and the man’s fam­ily was ‘‘given the nod’’ as to which were be­ing de­mol­ished, so they could strip out the tem­ples be­fore de­mo­li­tion.

‘‘To cut a long story short, he al­ways gave us the first op­tion on the an­tiq­ui­ties he im­ported into Aus­tralia,’’ Mr Gruzdev said.

To look at the trea­sures that are for sale is best de­scribed as jaw drop­ping.

Their home is adorned by an amaz­ing col­lec­tion, from a Chi­nese fu­neral urn that’s 4000 years old, a 400-yearold Bud­dha head, a 400-year-old hand painted piece on silk from a Bud­dhist tem­ple, to an or­nate early 19th cen­tury Ital­ian jewellery cabi­net, made from ebony, with in­laid tour­toise shell and ivory trim­ming.

The much loved jewellery cabi­net, with 12 se­cret draw­ers, has been in the fam­ily for 40 years.

‘‘It’s a mag­nif­i­cent piece, so well made that only a cou­ple of years ago we found two more se­cret draw­ers!’’ Mr Gruzdev said.

The range of paint­ings is amaz­ing, from old to new and ev­ery­thing in be­tween, in­clud­ing in­dige­nous art­work.

The Gruzdevs ac­knowl­edge it will be hard to part with their trea­sures, but ac­cept its time to move on and down­size. Their home is sold, the mag­in­f­i­cent col­lec­tion will find new homes, and a road trip around Aus­tralia is beck­on­ing.

Pic­ture: AN­THONY CAPOGRECO

FOR SALE: Alex and Jenny Gruzdev with some of their an­tiques

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