It damn near broke my heart. Down in the big metal skip, a few heads stuck out and some sepia-coloured papers slid to one side as the whole lot disappeared. One glimpse was all it took to see the whole story … down there, part of someone’s life was going to landfill. A few seconds earlier and I might have been able to persuade the grumpy guy in high-vis to stop the whole thing.
But probably not. He wouldn’t have cared, any more than the family who threw it all out cared. I’ve wondered since whose little treasures they were, and what his name might have been. I settled on Bruce, simply because I’ve known so many hunters and all-round good buggers by that name. And I reckon Bruce would have shed a tear, if he were still around, to see his old decoys and shooting catalogues and Eley cartridge boxes and duck calls go down a hole.
Why? For the same reason that men keep old jackets long after the zip has gone. For the same reason we keep dogs when they’ve grown deaf and can’t hunt any more. And for the same reason we catch up with old mates and talk about Opening Days that came and went 30 years ago. Because we like to remember.
To be fair, it’s likely that Bruce’s kids, probably in their forties now and busy with work and family, didn’t have the time to figure it all out. They saw some old junk and they took action. It probably never occurred to them what this stuff would have been worth to their dad, or that it might have been worth something to others.
Many of us don’t see it yet, perhaps because our country is so young. Overseas it’s a different story. In the USA, decoys from known carvers have sold for hundreds of thousands. They’re folk art and nostalgia — they cannot be replaced. The time and places and people that made them possible have gone forever.
Likely as not, those blackened old cork decoys saw action on flights of the black duck, known in New Zealand as the grey, back in the days before Mallard really took hold here. It’s possible, likely even, that they were passed to old Bruce by his father. The same goes for the old-school Fisher-type duck call — the ‘tongue pincher’ as they used to be known. With every year that passes, these things disappear a little more, and when they do, it isn’t just memories that pass with them — the history goes too.
There are, of course, collectors out there who worship this stuff, but you can’t just look them up in the phone book. Most people don’t know who they are and to be fair, some are pretty careful about putting themselves out there. In this day and age, it pays to be wary about personal information, but the result is that ordinary people don’t know what to do with the old gear when a family member passes on, and so it disappears forever.
If you see something old, it may not be valuable in dollar terms, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Somebody out there will treasure it, so let the owner know that. The golden rule is simple — ask before you chuck it out, and let people know they have something worth keeping. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Why is any of it important? You either know the answer to that straightaway or you never will. It makes a difference to know where you come from, to know what you stand for, to know who you are. Aussies and New Zealanders have always been good at that, and the sporting life that we — bird hunters and anglers — stand for is no different. Somewhere deep in all that stuff that went to the dump is who we are and where we came from.
That’s what makes it worth keeping.