Report cover
Inner urban conservation and development - An independent panel report on a proposal for Smith Street, Collingwood, under Melbourne 2030. Edited by Miles Lewis, August 2004. Order your copy

Second Hand Smith Street

19 Jun 2004

By writer/film-maker and former Fitzroy resident, David Cox.

Not long ago Irving Gribbish and I were cruising down Smith to check out the excellent range of second hand stores. Irving puts on film nights a pub in North Fitzroy in Melbourne called "Splodge" night. He and I have been self-styled afficionados of the second hand and 'opportunity' shops in Melbourne for 15 years.

We found some gems - some promisingly self important "self improvements cassettes" which I thought I could use in my performances, some novels with lurid covers from the "Ace" series (which Irving collects, by the way). We found used 3 hour videocassettes for a dollar each (cheap at twice the price).

Irving, who is into such esoteric as Kirlian photography makes handheld electromagnetic stimulators, and tells me that toy mobile phones on sale for $2 in the novelty shops are great to make his devices. They come complete with battery compartments and simple circuitry, which saves him the time and effort to build the latter.

We found an ultrasound negative near the pavement - a cryptic set of four black and white fan shaped ghostly images; sonic impressions with lettering and numbers everywhere. Deflected off the contents of the abdomen of a woman, presumably showing an infant in its early stages. That such an item should be found in the street struck me as strangely sad and prophetic. Perhaps it had been dropped accidentally - but what if it had been disposed of hurriedly? Perhaps the information it told of bore more than the owner could handle, or her boyfriend.

The opportunity shops in Smith street have names like "St Mark's" and these tend to have Catholic iconography for sale at the counter. Desperately sad Jesuses in lurid blues and greens. In the Eye and Ear hospital a huge basket of white audio cassettes all labelled with stickers with typewritten text like: "Treating Diagnosed Hearing Impediments". The op shops betray their sponsors by what was on the cassettes in the baskets.

There are rack after rack of woollen coats, old shirts, jackets. There are cardboard boxes full of plastic Tupperware and toilet seats. There are shoeboxes filled with utterly useless detritus, and the occasional wicker fruit bowl piled high with broken glasses, keychain novelties, souvenirs and ashtrays. Sublime junk.

A camera crew from a popular sports based variety show were accosting passers by with their cameras and asking questions - actually they were goading whoever they thought would entertain their most likely highly conservative viewership; arrogant and territorial blue and white collar males, with more than likely a real thing about "weirdoes". Whatever they were hoping to videotape, ridicule could be their chief aim. We gave them an interview, and decided later they would almost certainly use the segment as we had actually made reference to football (Irving was showing "War without weapons" - a 60s doco about footy at his "Splodge" screenings at the Empress hotel that week) and I had told them that I had consistently been excluded from the selection process in highschool for games, and that I had been thankful at that.

One guy had the camera and mike pointed at him as he confessed the circumstances of his recent separation. Distraught, he was pleading with the crew - the audience - anyone to understand.

"I loved her...... you know?...."

"I ...."

Later he was asking them if it really would make the show - whether it might have legal implications. Only the crew were humouring him, between themselves rolling their eyes - "get a load of this guy..."

We continued our drift down Smith and struck up conversations with pawn shop owners. There seemed to be lots of guitar effect pedals in hock, but few for sale (a form of interim currency for musical poor?). Late 1980s rhythm machines were in plentiful supply, as were analogue mobile phones. Buying one is easy, but unlike digitals, connections to the service won't happen at the pawnshop itself. Not much call for it 'roun 'ere sir...

Smith street buzzes in ways its more bourgeoisie counterpart North Brunswick street can't afford to. People *use* Smith street - its actually feels like an artery for traffic - that insistent purposeful rate with which utilities, light trucks and sedans and ubiquitous taxis differs markedly from the slower
pace of Brunny Street. There's an unspoken code that lets drivers know that the latter street is a promenade - a "walk" and in honour of this, drivers seldom exceed 20 kilometres.

The shops are abuse with activity - Asian bakeries with folks assembling pork rolls from a host of ingredients picked lovingly from stainless steel dishes. Pierced lesbians embracing as they pass peeling flyers hastily pasted for events and services.

I saw a kid in a stroller, blowing bubbles out of diminutive plastic saxophone. The thing made this sort of whistle as a bubble grew larger and larger - about the size of a cantaloupe.

Recent fashion school graduates hunched over sewing machines in underlit clothes shops. There are hairdo joints done up to look like Warner Bros cartoons, bald hairdressers preening the locks of gay hopefuls.

Those gift shops with tin toys and row upon row of almost psychedelically packaged bright cheap plastic toys and kitchen appliances - phone chords, all in one remotes, cheap ghetto blasters - pocket knives, calculators, jewellery, cassettes, cables and jacks, pliers, screwdriver sets, rolls of plastic garbage bags, gaudy battery powered things, all with hand-written cardboard prices, those masonite boards with holes punched into them with blister packs hanging from wire pegs. Two dollar headphones, nail cutters, screws, keyfinder beepers, music boxes which play 'fly me to the moon' built into little grand pianos.

Those shops are museums of the present - installations. Everything there you might need, but could probably live completely without also. Videocassette rewinders, telephone handsets, watches, cigarette lighters, bong parts. Xmas tree lights. Those kids cars which are sort of based on the spinners in "Blade Runner" and also the time machine car in "Back to the future" whose wheels pop up and the whole thing lifts up on a pedestal and spins around. Transformer robots. And everywhere you go that incessant loud "Hottest Mix" FM "from the '70s, '80s and '90s"

Tell me about it.....

Posted by Author Editor


From Andrew on 18 May 2006:

i hadn't even noticed it'd gone! what ever happend to Metal Micky? i think it's where the non-leather shoe shop is? it's been a good 10 years since i'd last seen it on smith st...

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