Objectifying fascination

A fascination with objects must start somewhere.

Some people are fascinated by animals. Or nature. Both of these are socially acceptable. People become zoologists or botanists or environmentalists, or tv documentarians.

People who are fascinated by objects can become museum curators or conservators. They become collectors if they focus on one type of object. But I bet the first label these days is hoarder. I am not any of these, although I’m very fond of collecting evidence for personal curatorship with an abiding sense of conserving something for the future.

I probably don’t know where my fascination with objects actually began, but I can trace three very clear memories that could explain it.

Age Five … I start kindergarten at a small rural school. There are two of us in the class, sitting and playing on a small raised platform up the back, in the right-hand corner of the room. There is only one room, containing all seven grades. In this area dedicated to us, I am overwhelmed by all manner of new things to play with, presumably of an educational nature. So important are these new finds that I take pieces home to show the family.

If I’d known what an archaeologist was, I might have thought myself one.

Prizes … It’s dark outside when Dad gets home from golf. We look up from the tele and ask “Did you win anything?” There is a nonchalant pride in the presentation of another trophy, not some painted piece of plastic but a serving tray of glassware or some other donated prize from the household goods section of one of the nicer local stores.

Our inquisition (I wasn’t alone) was not because we wanted to congratulate him on a great game but because he might be carrying an interesting object that elevated our sense of social standing. Often, it was only golf balls; not as interesting, but I could appreciate the practicality.

I can’t walk past a raffle.

In the kitchen … beautiful pieces of crockery, bowls, cups and glasses, teapots and trays are lining the shelves of Mum’s kitchen. This is an engagement present. That is a wedding present. This is a golfing prize. Each carries an aura of importance when I bring them out of the cupboard for afternoon tea with visitors.

I know it isn’t these objects that triggered my fascination because I don’t have the same gorgeous superlatives overflowing from my kitchen. Although, thinking on it, not getting engaged, not getting married and not playing sport might be the reason.

It was, instead, one particular plate that I cherished. It’s no longer the crisp black and white I remember, and it certainly doesn’t belong in our high definition world, but I continue to cherish this 60-something-year-old plate printed with a photograph of three young kookaburras.

Photographs printed on stuff be everywhere now (grammar deliberate!), but back in the 1960s a photograph on a plate said something to a small child living on a dusty, muddy farm in the middle of NSW.

It still says that the world contains unexpected possibilities.

It’s a photograph. On a plate.


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