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There's a chair in there: My secret (former) life as a kerbside collector

Opinion

Brisbane City Council’s decision to suspend kerbside collection for two years will stop Sean Parnell going through your trash. The man himself explains

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First to come into view were those pins: beautiful, hairpin legs, barely a curve in sight. This roadside discard was from another era, before flimsy flatpack furniture and mass-produced blah. But what made this wreck of a cabinet even more stunning was the fact those legs went all the way around to drawers – who would have thought!

Now, admittedly, all were affixed to warped, chipped wood, in a random pile of trash, something a heckling Wavell Heights homeowner informed me from the front porch. But those straight lines would not be left to landfill. With an old kitchen benchtop, and an accompanying glammed up garden chair, this kerbside find would become a treasured study nook. For free.

Abandoned on the kerbside, new-found feature pieces.

On Wednesday, satirical news website The Onion published an article on a fictional man unsure what to nominate as his “interests”, as if it should matter to anyone else:

“Racking his brain for anything that he liked or an activity that could be considered a hobby, local 42-year-old man Dennis Ferraro told reporters Tuesday that he was still unsure what his interests are.”

Well, my interests involve rummaging through other people’s hard rubbish, looking for jewels in the rough, something that can be sold, given to charity, restored or recycled. And that didn’t matter to anyone other than the woman from Wavell Heights (there’s one every outing) until Brisbane City Council this week banned kerbside collection for two years to save money. In 2020, a year of great tragedy and loss, my life was ever so slightly diminished when the council stopped allowing ratepayers to leave their hard rubbish outside to be picked up. With nothing to pick, I have become a Dennis Ferraro.

The kerbside collector, the amateur picker, the weekend street crawler, the strangers who mysteriously thin the piles for roaming council workers, are a curious species indeed. There are families out for an adventure, scrap metal dealers, electronic part finders, second-hand professionals, and people like Parnell and Son who like to think they’re above all that. Some people look like they have climbed out of a bunker and have a leg where their arm should be and a box for a hat, in a truck that probably should be left on the kerb. But everyone moves with haste if they see a potential treasure, jutting out from the plastic chairs, old barbecues, plastic pots, broken bookcases and plastic toys. At dusk, some people can still be seen sitting, alone, on a random sideboard, apparently waiting for a bigger vehicle to return. The best finds become the stuff of legends.

Every room in our house has such a piece of furniture, and more pieces have been sold online. My son has made good money selling near-new sneakers, bikes and skateboards, and always argues for space in the back. We regret some of the things not picked, like the locked but rattling safe at Hamilton. Still, it’s an opportunity to check out Brisbane on a weekend, to laugh, to ponder, to recognise value in things, to brainstorm money-making ideas. And we help clear the streets.

Sometimes, there is shame in having this as an interest. Being spotted by someone you know, wanting to explain that you have money but just want to make money. Digging in front of a homeowner, insisting you’re not the type to make a mess. Coming home empty-handed and wondering what the hell you’re doing with your life. On Wednesday, in the budget, council made that decision for me.

For two years, this Dennis Ferraro will have no interests, and homeowners across Brisbane will be denied their civic right and constitutionally-enshrined freedom to leave their crap just outside the front fence (Marie Kondo would scream). Hopefully, the more wasteful in the community will realise that flatpack furniture soon becomes an unnecessary landfill item, and that plastic is not-so fantastic. The ugliest part of kerbside collection is how frequently the same items are being discarded.

Maybe the good folk of Brisbane will learn to appreciate any vintage and antique furniture, linger over the older designs and true workmanship, learn to upcycle and repurpose, and keep things desirable rather than disposable. Personally, however, I think that would be extremely selfish and short-sighted and they should just wait for 2022. I’ll be ready to pop around.

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