It came as a shock. Although in hindsight, it shouldn’t have. Bruce, the local collector/upcycler/hoarder/junk-yard operator was dead.
Stories about his early demise (he was 61) flew around town on the strong wind that suddenly arrived. ‘It was his heart’, said some. ‘Self neglect,’ said others. ‘He chopped his head when he was collecting wood and wouldn’t stay in the hospital’, said another. Whatever the truth, his death had come too soon and everyone knew it.
Bruce’s secret trove – he let customers rummage around when he felt like it
I originally wandered into Bruce’s one chilly May morning, dumbstruck by the scale of industrial and domestic debris scattered everywhere. I was in heaven.
Bruce shuffled out of his tin-shack bedroom and sniffed. He seemed bewildered to see me and completely oblivious to the smell of cat pee that nipped the cold air. There were kittens of all sizes everywhere, watched over by feral mothers who spat if you got too close (50 cats were caught after he passed).
‘You visiting? said Bruce.
‘No, we’ve moved here,’ I replied.
He said nothing, making him the first person I’d met so far to not ask why.
Bruce lowered his tall body onto a plastic chair in the sun and sighed. He was quite a good looking man if you looked past his troubles.
‘Let me know if you see anything you want’, he said closing his eyes and tilting his face into the delicate autumn sunlight. ‘I just need to rest a bit.’
I began to poke around. There was no-one else in sight and I hadn’t told anyone I was coming. Would I end up in an old bush barrel?
I glanced back nervously but Bruce sat in the same spot unbothered, zen-like amongst his cement statues.
I figured if he trusted me to look around unsupervised I should trust him back. So I did. And nothing was going to hold me back from exploring his wonderful treasures.
I love my cement duck. He had a matching friend. Wish I’d bought him too
These old farm storage boxes became home to my thriving veggie patch
I came back the next Sunday and the next, and the next. I bought something every time. Sometimes I haggled, but not much. Bruce had a great eye and knew exactly what was worth what. I never got a bargain
Strangely, he sometimes seemed a bit miffed once he’d made the sale. Occasionally he offered to carry things to the car or deliver but other times he didn’t.
Letting go seemed hard for him.
The park bench and love chair (a gift from friends) are our favourite summer spot
Bruce had the BEST pots. I’ve mixed some of his with Dad’s ones from Bondi
My little attempt at a Japanese cottage garden – rocks and pebbles by Bruce
On the day after Bruce died, I arrived home from Sydney to find the sky bruised with dark menacing clouds. Trees were doing backbends in the wind. I had heard that he’d died alone in his depressing tin shed and I was feeling sad. What would Kandos be like without Bruce?
As I pulled up, a huge cockatoo swooped over my head and landed on our house’s roof. Despite the gale it somehow managed to grip the corrugated iron. It squawked loudly until I looked up, then threw its head over its winged shoulder and took off north, straight into the wind.
I later learned that Bruce was buried by his loving sisters and aunties in his hometown of Ulan.
Ulan is north of Kandos.
See ya Bruce. I hope you find lots of fab unloved junk to love in your next chapter. Keep throwing those flowers.
Bruce in the sun – courtesy of Claire Conroy
Feature image: Bruce’s site was used during Cementa 2015 and 2017. Part of an artwork by Genevieve Carroll remains.