Going green: how we used to reuse and recycle 26



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Before my mother died a year ago, when I visited her in the nursing home,
she would get most upset, with the nurses, who kept talking about,
how she should ‘go green to save the planet’.

All of this yuppie talk, about we must all go green.
What’s new about that, we asked ourselves.
We’ve been recycling all of our lives.

I remember collecting jam jars and saving sauce bottles,
washing and returning them to collect a penny each.
Soft drink bottles we treated the same, none were wasted,
it was like throwing pennies down the drain.

We would cut newspaper into squares, which hung on a string in our outside toilet.

We took stacks of clean newspapers to the fish shop;
we got some chips wrapped in newspaper as our reward.

We rolled ‘fire lighters’ from the older newspaper,
to start a blaze, to warm the house as it was in those days.

Many things we saved for our future use jam tins for screw and other small bits.
Bigger tins were painted and adorn with baubles to make them look pretty
to store larger things in.
Any glass jar, particularly if they had a lids,
was saved for making jams, or poached figs.

Brown paper and brown paper bags were carefully ironed,
and then stored flat for another life, there was no scrap.

Clean string which the butcher tied tightly around the white paper he had wrapped
was saved in a jar to use at least once more.

Worn out hand knitted jumpers were all unraveled,
the wool washed before been rolled into a ball and stored ready for use.
Old clothes were carefully unpicked and cut up to make something ‘new’.

Socks were darned, not thrown away.
We cut buttons off, to store in large glass jar,
so if you needed a button you didn’t have to look far.

Sides of double sheets, were sewn together to make singles and last longer.

Flour and sugar came in material bags, which could be reused over and over
for other uses.
Now everything comes wrapped in layers of plastic, or plastic wrapped around foam,
no use for anyone to use around the home.

Cars tires, had tubes which you could repair with a vulcanising patch that you lit with a match. Even when for the car they were no good, as kids we would patch them,
pump them up and take to the creek to float along.
Then after that we still cut the tubes in strips, and tied between a Y shaped stick cut from a tree, to catapult stones into the air.

Push bike tubes if they couldn’t be repaired and reused, were utilised to pull the gate shut behind us as we passed through.

From old pram wheels and old bits of wood a billy cart we would make,
to race down the hill, near our front gate.

We would grow our own veggie’s, and the peels and tops,
would be put back into the ground, to help with the other crops.

Coolgardie safes were luxuries, a sparkling innovation.
Water running down, the hessian sides, cooling by evaporation,
no power was wasted as it is now.

You see we have done all this, so wastefully we have never been.
So I’m sure that we have earned our little piece of green.


Do you do your bit for the environment? Which line of this poem rings most true for you? Tell us below.

David Perrott

David like many others of the time left school at 15 to get a job, to live, he was never very good at school anyway. After a struggle, his diverse career took him to many places, from Melbourne to Mt Isa, from Triabunna in Tasmania to Townsville, and many places in between. He is an internationally published author, but now he finds himself over 60, and contending with some hugely changed and challenging circumstances, that were inconceivable 5 years ago. He has recently published a coffee table book filled with stories and photos which can be purchased via his website www.perrott.net.au

  1. So many memories David. My Grandmother used to save the tissue paper around the apples for me to use at the toilet instead of newspaper. Kerosene lights, flat iron later to be replaced by pressure lamps and irons that a little fire was lit in. No refrigeration and eventually a wireless that was run off big car batteries.

  2. Reading through that I remember my grandparents doing a lot of that & remember doing some of those things as a kid,,so why did our generation change things to be such a disposable world.

    1 REPLY
    • I believe that ‘disposability’ is justified as it ‘creates’ more jobs! However somewhere along the line someone forgot that by throwing away the things that we once used to fix, some poor person is no longer needed to be a ‘repairman’….. so, do we need more manufacturing jobs or some manufacturing jobs and some repairman jobs and a lots less rubbish!

  3. Dumped all our newspapers and magazines at A.P.M. in Fairfield before Councils put out recycling bins.

  4. Agree with all of the above and we would never have thought to drop any paper as litter. If you didn’t come home with the paper bag and lunch wrap you went hungry the next day. It is only since there has been more disposable money floating around that the need to recycle or reuse things became a thing of the past

  5. Yes and if you grew up with that attitude it stays with, still reuse anything than can be reused.

  6. The water we used in preparing vegetables was always poured onto pot plants and the scraps fed to the chickens.

  7. I remember many years ago reading about a lady in England – the Council paid her an “official” visit because she didn’t put her garbage bins out! They assumed she was living in smelly squalor! The fact was she was astounded and her reply? “I don’t have rubbish. I grow my own veggies, scraps go to the cat or compost, if I buy anything in jars I reuse for my preserves, I buy nothing in cans, I burn newspaper as fire starters in my fireplace – what rubbish do you want me to put out??

  8. Yes this is so true – we were taught to recycle at a young age – and still carry those ideas through today!!

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