‘It’s hard not to get down in the dumps over our rubbish problem’

Sep 29, 2021
Barbara remembers the way rubbish collection was done when she was younger and how things have changed - not necessarily for the better - today. Source: Getty Images

It’s generally a simple thing to put out the rubbish, but when you’re damaged in some way and can’t easily walk, it’s not. I sprained my ankle and my kitchen rubbish was mounting up.

I hate those rubbish containers kept in a cupboard under the sink. Everything looks great and then you open the cupboard! So I have mine in a plastic bag hanging on a cupboard handle and hope to put it in the bin every night.

Recently I was put in charge of cleaning after good friend unexpectedly died. He was apparently unable to get to the bin himself, having lost toes and half of his foot. He didn’t let on this was a problem to him. To get to his bin you had to go out the front door, round the corner, a turn right, then a walk down the drive. All too hard obviously. Rubbish was everywhere. Old newspapers piled on a chair and overflowing kitchen tidy.

It was a very distressing sight, which somehow took me back to when I was eight years old and seriously in love with our garbage man. He was so handsome, cheery and fit.

I’d be positioned out the front to watch him. He’d rush down the side lane, swing our small metal bin up on his shoulder and run out to the truck, which was moving slowly down the street. He’d empty it effortlessly, run back with it, wave and smile to me and run on to the next house. He always kept up with the truck and if there was a distance between houses he’d casually swing up on the back and hang on.

Our rubbish was always neatly wrapped in newspaper in a special sort of way. My dad was an expert wrapper. There was never lots of it since the dog ate leftovers and anything burnable meant lighting the backyard incinerator. Great fun. Illegal now because of the pollution.

I later found out that Spencer, that was our garbageman’s name, was a pretty good footballer on the weekends and that was how he stayed fit. Nowadays footballers earn obscene amounts of money and do obscene things. I can’t imagine my Spencer ever being a part of that nonsense. My Spencer emptied bins, which kept him fit. No gyms and weights then. When did gyms arrive in our lives?

I belong to a swimming group and one day was sitting beside a bloke while we waited for the rest of the mob to turn up, so we’d all go in the surf together. We were chatting away, and I was told later that he was a famous footballer back in the day. The rest of the group were surprised I hadn’t recognised him, but what I know about footy can be written on the back of a stamp.

No he didn’t turn out to be my Spencer bloke, too young for that but through him I did get to meet the greats of our football past when he turned 70 and I went to his party.

Just look at what’s happened to rubbish collection and bins now. The bins now are huge, coloured, have multiplied and are filled with stuff we didn’t have back then, like plastic and bubblewrap and food containers. They have wheels. When I was a kid our bin was very small, about one-third the size of the bins now and there was only one collection per week.

Footballers have changed too! So many professionals. It’s all very serious.

My footballer from the swimming club actually had a proper job while playing football. He’s still very fit and looks a ball of muscle.

Then l started thinking of our First Nations people. Sixty thousand years ago they didn’t have garbage bins or rubbish collections. They didn’t leave their kids’ nappies on the beach.They did not scatter their soft drink cans around the place. All right, all right they didn’t drink soft drink. Their rubbish piles were neat and tidy collections of oyster shells and such like all piled up neatly. Our European ancestors found those middens very handy when ground up as a building material.

I can’t believe that in 300 years we’ve produced such huge amounts of rubbish. In that 60,000 years civilisations came and went. Plagues came and went. Religions and nations came and went but our First Nations people endured and so did the land.

Now rubbish disposal is a huge problem. Who would have thought we’d send our rubbish to China and Indonesia? What are we doing now they don’t want it anymore? It’s bin night. I must put get them to the kerb.

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