WHEN I left England with my family in early 1956 there were deep snowdrifts along the roads. We travelled in a small, overloaded Morris Minor that sometimes doubled as the village taxi. My Uncle Peter, who had been living with us, followed on his motorbike.
On the station at Ipswich while waiting for the train to London and then Southampton where the SS New Australia waited to take us to Australia my uncle gave us a parting gift each. For my sister there was a doll and for me there was a beautiful Joseph Rodgers penknife.
We never saw Peter again and it was fifty years before I reclaimed the penknife, which had somehow slipped into my father’s pocket. My sister came across it when she was sorting through my parent’s stuff after they had died. Remarkably she remembered it and gave it back to me.
I was surprised to see it. My father had a perchance for giving things away to people who admired them. I don’t know how many wristwatches he lost that way.
The penknife was rusted and one of the wooden sides on the handle was missing. It was worn from long use and the blades were held together by a crude brass screw affair. It had clearly led a useful life.
I took it apart and cleaned it and then replaced the wood in the handle with two nice pieces of Queensland Satinay from Fraser Island. When I riveted it back together it came up really well. It is one of my few treasured possessions.
I’m not a hoarder and I take great delight in ditching stuff. I’m a firm believer that if you haven’t used something in the last six months you don’t need it. It might have something to do with the fact that most of my working life was spent out in the bush living in a swag.
There are a few exceptions however. I’ve got a couple of battered old patrol boxes that I bought from Steamies for $12 each in the 1960s. I’ve carted them around for years; after Papua New Guinea I used them in the bush in Australia. They’ve even been back to their homeland for a couple of extended visits.
Another thing I’ve got is a 1965 edition of Bill Beatty’s A Treasury of Australian Folk Tales and Traditions that I was awarded as the literature prize at the end of high school. Funny thing is I’ve never actually read it, not my cup of tea.
There are other bits and pieces and most of it is what people would regard as junk. Who knows what might happen to it all when I eventually go to the patrol post in the sky. You can hardly leave anyone one old penknife, two battered tin boxes and a moth eaten book in your will. People are more interested in the silverware and the bank accounts.
As the cynics tell us, you are born into the world with nothing and that’s the way you leave it. The inference, of course, is that a life spent accumulating stuff is pretty pointless.
There are probably a few rich people around who inherited their wealth who might dispute that sort of wisdom.
But, then again, they probably haven’t got a genuine Joseph Rodgers penknife.