The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Rick Morton

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.

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