The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - John French Review this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

As a young teenager in the early 1970s, I re­mem­ber our lo­cal coun­cil leav­ing large skips in the back­streets where res­i­dents could dump their hard dis­pos­able rub­bish. Ob­vi­ously these skips were few and far be­tween due to the cost of their trans­port. They re­minded me of wildlife: no one could pre­dict where they would be, how long they would be there and how long it would be be­fore you were go­ing to see an­other one.

My fa­ther gave me and my two younger broth­ers strict in­struc­tions that if we were to see one within rub­bish-car­ry­ing dis­tance we were to tell him im­me­di­ately. It didn’t mat­ter what he was do­ing; the dis­posal of rub­bish al­ways took pri­or­ity. Af­ter that it was all hands on deck as we rushed to­wards the back­yard lug­ging bro­ken fur­ni­ture, old tins of paint, gar­den refuse, old tyres or any other piece of junk that had been sit­ting around since the last sub­ur­ban skip.

Ev­ery­one had to work quickly, as ev­ery fa­ther in the neigh­bour­hood pre­sum­ably had given the same in­struc­tions. Like ants com­ing out be­fore a change in the weather, chil­dren from ev­ery­where would de­scend on the skip with their un­wanted house­hold items. There was noth­ing quite as em­bar­rass­ing as be­ing too late and find­ing the skip was al­ready “chock-ablock” full. On sev­eral oc­ca­sions I no­ticed a skip al­most full to the brim and didn’t bother to tell Dad, think­ing we had al­ready missed the boat. On one oc­ca­sion this back­fired as my fa­ther saw it not long af­ter and ac­cused me of hav­ing de­fi­cient eye­sight (or words to that ef­fect).

There was no use com­plain­ing that you had some­thing bet­ter to do if it was skip-load­ing time. My fa­ther was very stoic about this. (“Look, I’d rather be sit­ting in the lounge room watch­ing Doug Wal­ters bat­ting too, but you know what hap­pens if you leave it too late!” was one of his more mem­o­rable quotes.)

Hard rub­bish col­lec­tion has evolved since those heady days. The sec­ond stage of hard rub­bish col­lec­tion was the “leave it out the front of your house and we will pick it up three or four days af­ter we said we would be­cause by then peo­ple would have trolled through it and taken a lot of the stuff for them­selves and saved us a lot of time and money” ap­proach. This worked quite well un­til rub­bish spread on to foot­paths and streets and be­came a haz­ard.

Our present coun­cil has the so­phis­ti­cated sys­tem whereby ratepay­ers can book a time. This cuts out the bar­gain hunters and the rub­bish ri­flers, and seems to work very well.

But in a way I miss the spon­tane­ity of the sys­tem from all those years ago. Those bright yel­low metal skips that were the size of a small truck, the sense of ur­gency, the area in the yard cleared away af­ter wait­ing for the coun­cil to do their stuff. The sat­is­fac­tion of a job well done.

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