My Richmond Relics Days

Following on from my post "Getting my hands dirty".

It was the silly season - Christmas 1999.

I was on my hands and knees, frantically polishing the concrete floor of a small shop.

A month ago, I had been on a tram to uni. As I passed the corner of Bridge and Burnley, I caught a glimpse of a vacant shop-front. Something compelled me to jump off the tram.

My interest in studying had been waning; I was spending much of my time collecting rustic and industrial furniture, with a vague notion of restoring them and selling them at the Camberwell

Trash-n-Treasure market. But I was reluctant to part with my collection. I had a vision of displaying them in a grander forum.

So I jumped off the tram with abandon, and loitered in front of the shop. It faced due North, which satisfied the Hindu mystics. The real-estate agent was right next door. I stuck my head in, and was greeted with looks of contempt.

I was the epitome of an under-graduate: dishevelled, slovenly, and impecunious. However luck was on my side. To cut a long story short, the owner was a prominent Melbourne antique dealer.

In a moment of altruism, he offered me the premises. He waived the bond, and the first month's rent, signed the papers, and roared off in his late model Porsche.

And Richmond Relics came into being.

I populated the shop floor with my quirky objects, and left-of-centre furniture pieces. There was no digital marketing, social media, or even digital cameras. I relied upon passing traffic.

The first month was grueling. Melbourne was going through a heatwave. The streets were like a ghost town. Occasionally someone would poke there head in for a moment, and sniff around. I could read their minds: " Not another junk shop!"

I passed my time the best I could: pottering, polishing, pricing. Walter came as a saving grace.

My partner at the time had been pestering me, "Get me a sausage, Neel, get me a sausage." The last thing I needed was more responsibility, but eventually I relented.

One evening I came home with the most adorable Daschund puppy on the face of the earth: endearing, gregarious, jovial, vivacious, with baby-eyes that could melt butter.

Few could resist his spruiking. He had a fiendish delight for ball-games, and would flick a tennis ball with his snout at passersby, to entice them into a game of fetch. He became my constant companion. I trained him not to wander past the kerb. Sometimes he strolled down Bridge road, to visit his numerous friends. He did not need a lead.

Things started to happen in August. Familiar faces started popping up. My first sale was a timber filing cabinet to an elderly lady who lived locally. My second was a set of plan drawers to a retired architect.

Soon there was a flurry of customers. I was astonished that many of my quirky, eccentric pieces were going to immaculate, manicured houses. My old workbenches, covered in nail-holes and tool marks, were becoming hall tables and entertainment units for the latest slim-line tv's. I delivered many old relics to rooms adorned with traditional antiques, and conservative decor.

Genuine, re-purposed Melbourne Industria became sought after. A new, edgy furniture style was coming into vogue.

I was in my element, gallivanting around Melbourne, attending auctions, and clearance sales.

Some of Melbourne's prominent companies were closing their doors: Ansett, APM [Australian Paper Mills], Kodak, etc.

The digital disruption age had begun.

I found spectacular workbenches, cutting tables, and heavy trolleys, that were begging for a new life.

The old member's stand pavilion at the MCG, was being demolished. Dozens of majestic old doors, that I was fortunate to acquire, inspired me to make "barn-door" style tables.

These tables lay the foundation for the panelled tables that I started making in Collingwood, with another craftsman, some years later, who shared my enthusiasm for old timber. These tables were a fusion of textures, colours, and caligraphy.

After one of these tables was featured on Masterchef, with Jamie Oliver sitting at it, the phone didn't stop ringing.

We threw the "furniture rule-book" out the window.

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