Mum returned home with a personal grocery trolley, a metalframe day bed and a paper shredder, on account of the local online trading post she had recently discovered. This outlet, a simple social media page on which people display their wares, inhabited the Venn diagram sweet spot, blending all her special interests: The Castle, bargains and neighbourhood intrigue.
All sorts of things are for sale. A beginner’s violin book, the entire contents of a house, teaspoons and, if the spirit takes you, one whole droughtmaster cross Australian Illawarra shorthorn bull calf.
A Panasonic television listed for $15 comes with the note: price negotiable to $10 only. At what point, one starts to wonder, does the whole exercise become worthless? An entire family of Mr Potato Head figurines is offered for $25 with one caveat: that they find a “good home”.
What began as a necessity for Mum has quickly turned into an addiction, complete with an intensity not usually seen outside professional auctions. She has gently bled into Darryl Kerrigan.
On seeing the day bed my sister was blunt. “That’s a piece of shit,” she said. Mum couldn’t bring herself to defend the purchase proper, just the idea of the transaction. “Oh what, Loz, for $5?” How could anything worth $5 be that bad?
While visiting she began scrolling through the listings and came across one for a kitten, some sort of Persian short hair. Asking price: $150. “One-fifty! It’s not even a purebred, Rick,” she said.
When The Castle was released on VHS it was viewed almost every weekend and our lives revolved around quoting it, partly because we found it amusing but mostly because we saw in that family a lot of ourselves, misfired attempts at pottery included. Powerlines were signs of man’s ingenuity and when my brother went to jail I suggested getting him an elephant with its trunk up, because that means good luck.
Mum’s purchases, so far, seemed valid. The granny trolley was a practical if not fashion-forward accessory to help her walk milk and bread home from the local supermarket. The paper shredder, though technically unnecessary, was a better alternative to a system she had introduced to stop identity fraud.
Setting aside her need to prevent her identity being stolen in a sleepy country town in the first place, we must, instead, grapple with the “how”. On a return visit one morning I awoke to the smell of smoke. Downstairs I found Mum standing next to a kitchen pot with a fire in it. She was wearing slippers and a dressing gown and looked like a pagan who had lost her job at a Wiltshire meatworks. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m burning all my documents,” she said.
Documents. She had never worked in security at the Lucas Heights reactor, never been in cabinet or ASIO. As far as I knew the closest my mother had come to possessing sensitive documents was when she received my Year 3 report card which noted I was easily moved to tears.
So now she has a paper shredder and no matter how ill-conceived her plans are, at least she can attend to them in a more efficient manner. She’s the little Edward Snowden that could.
The buy/swap/sell movement in regional Australia has its roots in pragmatism but it has flourished through the evangelism of people like my mother who, upon seeing an old model rotary hoe, seek to shoehorn it into a world which went well enough without one.
Every posting has a story. I paused to wonder about the animating force behind the woman who offered an assortment of empty liquor bottles for $5. “Old heavy bath” for $40 was a tearjerker, though my Year 3 teacher may disagree.
Mum and I were perched on a rocky outcrop on the ocean edge of Phillip Island recently when she said: “Why would you want to travel anywhere else in the world when you’ve got this?” We’d been quoting it all trip so I asked her if this was from The Castle. There was silence. “Wait, that’s actually you, isn’t it?” I realised.
She came across some chooks on a posting. Good layers, and whatever else you put on their resume. Did she need the chickens? Well, no. But they are quite cheap.