CONCENTRATING while driving is difficult at this time of year.
All too often my foot seems to lift, just ever so slightly, off the accelerator, slowing me down just enough to give me time to examine my surroundings in detail.
My attention is grabbed by the appearance of something new in my neighbourhood, and these past few weeks, there have been quite a few distractions catching my eye.
Take the house on the corner for example. I drive past it several times a day, from three different directions, and yet, this week, I have had to fight the urge to stop the car.
It’s their nature strip, and it’s thick with faded plastic toys and broken chairs, upturned buckets and a roll of carpet ready for a hard waste collection.
I can’t help but wonder if there is something hiding in the pile that could be useful.
But I drive on, and within a few seconds it happens again.
This time it’s a pile of old, dusty picture frames and a rusty bike.
I scan the pile as my car slows — I will never get to work on time if I keep this up.
But as the saying goes, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and many of us have found treasure on a nature strip.
In 2007, a Melbourne suburban survey found that two in five households had gleaned something from hard rubbish in the previous two years.
Another more recent study, from Monash University, recruited householders to track the things they put on their nature strips — they reported that more than a third of the items were taken before the scheduled council collection.
Seems many of us like the idea of “footpath fossicking” and finding items we can re-use.
Our dining table was one of those finds.
It was a huge, solid and heavy pine table, with someone’s initials scratched deeply into the edge, and a blackened corner from weather damage.
Other items were piled on top of it, but I could see it had history and was determined it was not going to landfill.
Luckily, I had my mum in the car with me, and she was on-board the moment we looked at it.
I left her standing on the side of the road, keeping watch over our find, while I went back for the trailer and a stronger pair of arms.
It was a major effort to get it home, followed by hours of sanding and painting, but five years later it’s still fabulous — the story is often brought up at dinner and the bit about me leaving my mum standing on the side of the road usually gets a giggle.
There is pride in a good salvage.
Pride and a good story — well, post salvage that is.
For when we are in the thick of it, it seems many of us want to don sunnies and a cap, and hope nobody recognises our car.
We look nervously over our shoulder as we lift the boot, and drag our find from the pile as quick as we can.
For many years it was thought to be illegal to scavenge from the nature strip, however according to The Age, March 22, 2011, the Shire of Yarra Ranges set the record straight, letting us know that “Any items placed out for hard waste collection remain the property of the resident until collected by the contractor.”
What a relief.
So next time, do as the 8,162 members of the Melbourne Hard Rubbish Facebook Group do and fossick with confidence, (my membership is pending so those numbers may change).
All it takes is a knock on the door, a polite request with an understanding that you won’t leave the pile in a mess and it’s all yours.
Putting out our unwanted goods is just one more step towards responsible consumption and community spirit, and you just never know where something might end up.
Recently I put out a coffee table that had been in the garage for months, waiting for me to restore it.
Several hours later, a couple new to our neighbourhood were out walking and asked if they could have it.
That driveway conversation led to a cup of tea, which led to them staying for dinner.
The following weekend, we helped them pick up a couch from two streets down — and that led to an offer of a free guitar lesson.
That little coffee table has made its way around our neighbourhood, found its home, and we have made new friends.
So if you are tempted to answer the call to rummage, fossick, salvage or even mine a nature strip, I urge you to do it with confidence and join this not-so-quiet revolution.