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Collecting time

One in three people collects something. A show of hands in the Macquarie Marquee reinforced Chris Hanley’s belief that readers and writers are natural collectors. The balance here in the marquee was more like two in three were collectors.

For me, its cat ornaments. My favourite is a salt shaker, in the shape of a particularly elegant white cat. I have around 25 cat ornaments and they peer out from nooks all over the house. My husband feels like they are watching him.

Over the years, I’ve culled the collection. I only seek out and keep the quirky and wonderful. According to Claudia Chan Shaw, it’s that selectivity that separates me from the recently classified mental illness of hoarding.

“Hoarders have no order, no focus,” said Chan Shaw. “A hoarder might collect more junk things, food labels, and newspapers… things we would throw out. Hoarding takes over so that there is no living space left.”

Chan Shaw, author of the recently released Collectomania and ABC TV presenter of The Collectors is an avid collector. She shares a three-bedroom home with her husband and dog, and confessed that every wall is covered with their collections. The couple collect Japanese space toys, wine, first edition books, fossils, and more.

Chan Shaw put her collecting down to nostalgia, a by-product of growing up a latch-key child with entirely too much time watching television.

“It’s often, ‘oh I could never afford that as a kid, or I had one as a kid and I lost it, so now I’m grown up I’ll get one’, and pretty soon it becomes a collection,” Chan Shaw said.

“When I was 15, I thought I was so grown up so I sold all of my toys at the markets. I regretted it instantly and I’ve been over-compensating ever since.”

David Astle, master wordsmith and crossword writer, pointed out that ‘nostalgia’ is an anagram of ‘lost again’.

“I love that,” said session chair Chris Hanley, “lost again in a feeling, a time a memory.”

And Astle collects time. His bookshelves are lines with seemingly random little pieces, a seedpod or a ticket, each a touchstone of a moment.

His children’s quotes form another collection. Astle recently presented a childhood of sayings to his son, Finn. His favourite occurred during Finn’s first ferry ride at three years of age.

“As the ferry pulled out the quay, the engine thrumming beneath his feet, Finn yelled at the top of his lungs, ‘I can feel the power through my penis!’” said Astle.

Astle’s most conventional collection is dictionaries, which is another exercise in collecting time. Astle said that he loves them because they capture the conversation of a moment.

“The joy of keeping the pulse of language is watching their evolution,said Astle. “Dictionaries are a kind of ECG of language.”

Geordie Williamson, celebrated literary critic, was sick of sitting in the “bubble of the here and now”, and created by a publishing environment so industrial that books have a shelf-life not unlike a dairy product.

“Eighteen months on the shelves, then they’ve gone off,” said Williamson.

Always putting his hand up to review re-released classics, Williamson decided to encourage people to take the time to go backwards and enjoy the quality Australian literature that he feared forgotten. The Burning Library is a collection in itself, representing the reclamation of a lost Australian literary canon.

My collection of cats has been stagnant for a few years now. This panel inspired such a noble view of collections, I’ve been reinvigorated. Has anyone seen a white cat pepper shaker?

Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Arts student.

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