Saturday, 26 March 2011

An oven and a prison door

Q: What do these two things have in common?

A: I bought them both for the house before there even was a house.

The oven is a pearler. A beauty. I'd been searching for a dual fuel cooker. The new AGAs and Rayburns were well outside my budget and there didn't seem to be anything second hand. Older stoves tended to be one or the other, either gas or wood, not both. But then! One night on ebay I found a dual fuel stove in working order and no one bidding on it. I'd never used ebay so I asked my brother what to do. The bidding closed mid afternoon - when we should've been at the cafe. He advised me to do nothing for the time being and just watch it. Then, on the day the bidding closed we shut the cafe early and headed up to his place in time to bid in the last thirty seconds. It was exhilarating! From memory we put in $1000 as the high bid and ended up getting it for around $800. 

We had to collect it from Carlton, just near the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets. The woman who had owned it and used it her whole adult life was going into a retirement home. Her nephew was selling the stove so he could replace it before he put tenants in the house. He was upset that I got the stove for $800 - as he should've been, it was certainly worth more than that. It was dirty and was missing some fire bricks, but otherwise was in pretty good nick.

But it wasn't just a stove, it had a story...

After the second World War when there was a wave of sponsored European migration an Italian man had come home to his wife and announced that they were migrating to Australia. Apparently she responded that she wasn't going anywhere without her new Zoppas oven. So the husband pulled the oven out of the wall... They packed up their belongings, their children and their stove and moved to Australia, eventually moving into a terrace house near the corner of Lygon and Elgin streets. The man died in this house fifty years later. The woman, no longer able to manage on her own was leaving this house and moving into a home... And the stove is now my stove.

We picked it up in mum and dad's van. It only just fitted in. It was bloody heavy. I flew to Indonesia and left dad and my brother to unload it! It then lived in the shed for months gathering dust and becoming a haven for myriad spiders. Eventually the house was built and now the stove is the centrepiece. The old Italian lady would be happy methinks.

All the instructions in Italian...

Contrast this with the prison door... I was at Building Bitz in Wonthaggi chatting to Tim and scouring the place for odd bits and pieces when he pointed out the two prison doors that he'd just picked up from the old Won Wron prison. I've had family members spend a little time as a guest at HM Prison Won Wron and a family friend who'd been a guard down there. I never imagined I'd have a door from the jail in my house. But once I was actually looking at it it had a peculiar beauty; it may have had an ugly purpose, but in its strength and solid functionality it was bizarrely handsome. What had me loading it into the car before I could think too much about it wasn't the door itself though, it was the graffiti that the prisoners had etched into the paint, the dents that they'd kicked into the hardened steel, the stories it contained, the way it was somehow more than just a door.

I wanted to use the door on the bathroom, thinking the guards' viewing panel would be both oddly functional and a curious talking point. That idea was kiboshed by just about everyone I mentioned it to - too creepy being the general consensus. But I wasn't to be dissuaded entirely... I kept thinking. Besides, I'd paid a couple of hundred dollars for this hunk of creepy steel... 

As with the stove, the prison door gathered dust in the shed for many months while the house took shape, first in my mind then in reality...

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