“Will you please stop fussing over what to write next, just go to the first box, pick up the next object and write about it.” So said my noisy inner voice.

(Kewpie Doll was the first object I picked up and wrote about.)

So I did. I went to the box, put Kewpie to one side and picked up the scrunched-up paper she was lying on. Inside was a slightly misshapen, rather corroded, very tarnished serving tray.


Perhaps there’s a makers mark. There might be a story in that.

A story, yes, but already told by others much more experienced than I … “Finely made and modestly priced, Australian silverware competed strongly with imported goods.” The majority of silver-plate homewares sold in Australia during the 20th century are probably stamped with ‘HECWORTH EPNS’. Check out this old HECWORTH catalogue at the National Library of Australia.

Perhaps it can be upcycled into something. There might be a story in that.

But I can’t think of anything. The tarnish could be removed but the corrosion is a problem, and I see no point in having it re-plated.

Or perhaps there’s an arty photograph lurking in the patterns of tarnish?

I start to turn the object around in my hands, and it is then I finally find my story – my link to it’s past.

It was a heart skip moment.

Amoungst the tarnish on its base is a small section untouched by time. It’s in the shape of a Z, the first initial of my grandmother’s middle name, the name she was known by. Zell.

Where others would need to write more to ensure ownership was recognised, my grandmother only needed one letter.

Bring a Plate

Image a time when it was not possible to order-in catering for an event.

Go back far enough and community gatherings usually occurred at someone’s house, picnics aside of course. Then, as the new community grew, facilities were built … communal halls, schools, tennis courts and cricket pitches.

Regardless of where they were held, events still needed the obligatory afternoon tea or supper to prepare guests for the long road home. The ladies of the district were required to ‘bring a plate’.

To ensure the plate made it back to the correct home, a name was placed on the underside. Nail polish was a common writing medium. Sometimes, a piece of sticky plaster was used because you could write on it with a pen.

I suspect my grandmother’s Z was written in nail polish. The bond loosened with age and an unusually shaped piece of pinky/red polish was sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or gurgled down the drain.

My grandmother was born in 1899, married in the 1920s after World War 1 and lived on the farm until she moved into town during the 1970s. During those 50 years, there were community events of all shapes and sizes for which each family contributed. I remember the sumptuous high teas after the boring sporting prizes were handed out, and expansive suppers held after the balls and dances, although I was too young to go to the ball … we kids would sleep in the back of the station wagon, parked outside, until we were old enough to stay awake long enough for Mum to bring out a few dairy-ladden deserts.

When I mentioned finding the Z to Mum, her first recollection was the agricultural bureau meetings. A bit of research on the State Archives website and I find that “The main functions of the Bureau were to promote rural and adult education, to organise co-operative group effort to improve facilities, to train people in citizenship, leadership, and community responsibility.”

On the National Library’s TROVE website, I found this article from the Forbes Advocate in 1954 about a “well-attended Gunning Gap Agricultural Bureau meeting” held at my grandparents house:

Next Steps

What to do with the serving plate?

Some of the photos have a painterly quality that I like, if I can commit the time to explore the surface texture and tackle the technical difficulties …


Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, ‘Hecworth’ tea and coffee service set by Platers Pty Ltd, https://collection.maas.museum/object/11637

National Library of Australia, “Heckworth” Sheffield Reproduction Silverware, Catalogue, Platers Pty Ltd, 1940 https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/3068252

State Archives of NSW, Government Agricultural Bureau https://search.records.nsw.gov.au/permalink/f/1ebnd1l/ORGANISATIONS1002429




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