One fine mid-October Sunday, I returned home from my morning walk to be greeted with the news our annual council clean-up was on Monday. After previous clean-ups, I thought we had nothing left to throw out, and I looked forward to a long day of writing. Until I had another look in the attic and shed!

Instead of writing, I spent the day clearing out a depressingly large pile of junk. And I arranged the items neatly on our verge, like a shopkeeper displaying his wares. Because I hoped someone would recycle our unwanted goods and chattels before they got crushed by a garbage truck.

Early Clean-ups

My earliest experience of council clean-ups was when I moved to Sydney in the early 1980s. I lived in a shared house in Bondi, and all my bedroom furniture — desk, drawers, wardrobe, bed (but not the mattress!) — was recycled from verge side piles.

Over the years, I retained a keen interest in council clean-ups, unearthing other items of furniture and occasional treasures. I found a lamp for the desk, bookcases for my books, and a 240-CD carousel tower (now full!). And the “treasures” weren’t just for my benefit. I refurbished a Fussball table for my nephew and a guitar for my niece.

Share Your Writing on

And when Uncle Robert became a dad, I browsed the piles with renewed vigour for toys for my son. I found Hot Wheels cars, Transformers and Lego. His first basketball hoop was recycled from a clean-up, as were several bikes.

Like Father, Like Son

It seems my son inherited his father’s compulsive council clean-up gene. And as he grew, so did his obsession with the verge side piles. I even nicknamed him Magpie!​

The zenith of my son’s “clean-up collecting” was in 2017. That weekend his haul included another desk lamp, antique maps and Japanese prints, a 1949 Singer sewing machine, and a drill press. The keen-eyed reader may have noticed it among the items I put out for this year’s council clean-up. And I’m pleased to report someone recycled the drill press (again!) before the garbage truck arrived.

Council Clean-ups - 2017

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The mature, middle-aged me has become less material. And I no longer greet the annual council clean-ups with the same excitement as a kid going on a treasure hunt. Instead, as that mid-October Sunday proved, they’ve become a chore.

However, there is one item for which I still share my son’s enthusiasm for clean-ups: books. And this year, I recycled a small selection from a cardboard box on a verge. Some of the books I’ve read and others I haven’t. But I felt it was worth rescuing them all from the garbage truck.

Council Clean-ups - Recycled Books

One of the books in the box was Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (which I haven’t read). I later discovered someone had scribbled notes inside the book and stuck post-it notes on various pages, including this observation:

“Literature is a destabilising and subversive force.”

In my opinion, it’s the same with council clean-ups. Once a year, they destabilise the “new is good” creed of consumerism and subvert the ethos of conspicuous consumption.

Council clean-ups allow us to rummage and recycle, be it a bed, a Fussball table, toys, bikes, a drill press or a pile of books.

© 2020 Robert Fairhead

N.B. You might also like to read another blog post on “recycling”, Repurposed Writing (September 2019).

Note: This post originally appeared on the Tall And True writers’ website.

This post was proofread by Grammarly


Welcome to the blog posts and selected writing of Robert Fairhead. A writer and editor at the Tall And True writers' website, Robert also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast. In addition, his book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media, and he's published several collections of short stories. Please see Robert's profile for further details.


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