Sometimes the things that we hang onto have no intrinsic monetary value. What give them importance are the stories that they can tell. If you don’t write these stories down or tell others it could make an object meaningless so that it will get tossed out because no one will understand the significance. Such stories are also a source of inspiration.
We keep many useless objects because of their stories and not just for their aesthetic value. Often you are the only one who has heard these tales. There are some stories that I knew of which Ellie had no knowledge because she was not there at the time. It would be a pity if the stories were lost because this makes the things interesting.
Take the blob of molten glass belonging to my grandfather. He told me that it was from the remains of a house up in the hills where his family holidayed when he was a child. Here they rode horses and enjoyed country life. My grandfather remembered being chased by stampeding turkeys that his mischievous younger brothers let out from their pen. The house was destroyed in a bushfire and he kept this bit of debris as a reminder of the place. Embedded in the glass is some mortar and charcoal from the intense heat of the fire. This piece of glass speaks not only about my grandfather’s experiences, but also of the history of our country. Bushfires are responsible for some of Australia’s worst natural disasters but are also needed for the germination of seeds and regeneration of the native eucalypt forests. Most of us or members of our family have been affected by bushfire at one time or another. For me this blob has meaning and I would never throw it out.
It is also lovely to keep something that was hand-made by a family member whether it is useful or not. Another thing that came from my grandfather is a piece of Mallee Root. These are used as firewood in Victoria because they are slow burning. He polished this fragment of root on one side to see what it would look like and for no other reason. This was typical of a man who was always curious about nature and trying different processes. I think that it is quite sculptural and beautiful and knowing its story makes it special.
Objects that tell us something about our forebears are intriguing. One of our ancestors was a sea-captain in the mid 19th century. One of his sons also sailed. We have quite a collection of old tropical shells that were brought back from their journeys. The ones that are not in great condition are in the garden. There are giant tritons, helmet shells and types of univalves. There is also a Black Bean Pod (Moreton Bay Chestnut) that comes from northern Australia. The pod is hard, woody and the seed inside rattles when shaken. I love the fact that these ancestors were combing some beach over 100 years ago and the shells and pod are still with us today. I wonder where they went and what adventures they had on their journeys to and from Australia. The shells and pod are a reminder of our history when the sea was the only way to connect with the rest of the world.
Some objects are valuable because they bring back personal memories. An old key attached to a long piece of wood belonged to the boatshed at the bottom of our grandparent’s orchard. Before the door fell off it was locked with a padlock. My mother’s family kept canoes that they used on the river in the shed, but these had gone when I was a child. Inside the rickety old building all that remained was a pump that sent water from the Yarra River to water the orchard. As a child I disliked the sound of that machine. It was mechanical and creepy and I tried to avoid it when it was on. The pump fed a giant sprinkler that sent jets a long way across the orchard and you had to run before it could drench you with water. In summer it became a game of dodge with a lot of yelling. Later owners eventually pulled down the boatshed but the key can still unlock the past.
We often keep utilitarian, unprepossessing things just to remember a person. A rather plain, rectangular lump of heavy metal is something I treasure. It is a metallic sample that belonged to my father. He was an industrial chemist and this was something that was used in his research. To us as children dad’s job was mysterious because it was separate from our lives. Any thing to do with science was like alchemy involving strange processes and smelly chemicals. This sample gave his job a reality and when I use it as a paperweight I remember the rare visits to dad’s work seeing him in a white lab coat, surrounded by all kinds of strange apparatus. Dad’s piece of metal has never rusted or corroded so whatever the sample was for I’m sure it did a good job.
So an object can be more than a physical thing if it has some kind of story that is important to you. It does not need to be earth shattering or epic. Sometimes the most memorable stories are the simple ones. Pass them on or write them down. Use them to inspire. A “blob of glass” without a story remains a blob.
The things we keep
Their stories silent
It’s up to us to make them speak
One of the best songs ever written about Australia is Ganggajang’s Sound of Then from the 1980s. It is evocative, nostalgic and fun.