Kyogle. Tuesday, 10.40am.
It’s in my nature to say hello to people.
I say ‘g’day’ to passers-by in the street who catch my eye; to cashiers at the servo who ask me if I’d like a drink with that (strangely, I never feel like a Coke with my premium 98); to bored check-out people at Woolworths called Leeantha or Kimberley or Justin.
I like to humanise a society that all too often puts systems above the people. I believe in people. I encourage human contact despite the monsters we have created – like capitalism and iPhone – which separate us.
Also, I was brought up to be polite. Old school.
Today, I have ventured from my place under the cliffs at the end of the world, steering my Superoo through shady pockets of forest and over the range to Kyogle.
I have a trailer of rubbish and I’m headed to the dump. Or tip. Or refuse centre. Or whatever – the place where we ditch our stuff; where humankind leaves it biggest mark; where whitegoods come to die; where chipboard that started as an Australian tree in an old forest and went to China to be converted into a kitchen suite (with the help of unpronouncable chemicals) is shipped back to Bunnings in Lismore and sold to a renovating couple clutching a brochure with sparkling kitchens and sparkling smiles promising a better life.
A few years later, after the chemicals have dispersed into the kitchen air, the chipboard swells with natural longing, the drawers stick, and the old tree ends its incredible journey here, in Kyogle, thrown on a pile of other old trees that have travelled the world undertaking cosmetic surgery only to end up as part of humanity’s ever expanding cache of trash.
As I drive into the dump, there is a large electronic sign flashing ‘No scavenging’. Pity. Scavenging is a great way to recycle and re-use. I like scavengers.
I say ‘G’day mate’ to an old bloke whose huge grey beard strokes a computer screen. (I’m polite.)
‘G’day,’ he says. ‘What you got there?’
‘Rubbish,’ I say. (It seems obvious.)
‘Yes, I know that. How much recyclable stuff you got?’
‘Most of it,’ I say. ‘A lot of bottles – I drink a bit – and an old metal garden shed I pulled down.’
‘Fifteen dollars,’ he says handing me a piece of paper from under his beard.
I pass a hillock of whitegoods. Past this is metal mountain. Roofing, bed frames, shed skeletons, fencing – it’s all here in a huge rusting pile.
I stop near a bloke tapping an old 44-gallon drum to test its soundness. His ute is parked nearby with bits and pieces loaded on the tray. He’s scavenging. The bearded fella at the gate can’t see him here behind the whitegoods.
‘G’day,’ I say. (I’m polite. I told you that.)
Oh dear. I should have said nothing.
Inspired by human contact, the scavenger talks. And talks. I lift the old sheets of tin from the trailer and chuck them onto the pile, the crashing noise giving just brief respite to his blah-blah.
‘…and I don’t pay rates. Council is illegal…’ Crash! ‘…taking our jobs. Bob Hawke was a communist and…’ Crash! He looks at me for agreement. ‘…greenies in Kyogle now…’ Crash! I can’t look at him. ‘…don’t like it, leave…’
His words cloud the air. It’s hard to breathe.
Tin dumped, I jump in my car and take off; no ‘see ya’ or ‘goodbye’. I don’t like scavengers.
I speed past the bearded gateman, not even looking at him.
Filling up at the servo, I don’t say hello to the cashier. I pay. I nod.
I don’t want human contact. I just want petrol – and a Coke.
I’m not polite.