To Market, To Market
For a long time I thought the Camberwell market was Melbourne’s treasure island, except located in a carpark, and with stalls of junk instead of treasure. Knowing this from the outset though has not stopped me from pillaging through every market stall with the deranged madness of a dog trying to dig up dinner bones he buried in the backyard last night. The only difference between me and the dog, is that he knows exactly where he buried the bones, and I do not.
I would come home after an early morning market jaunt and spread out my new possessions on the kitchen table, admiring each with the sensibility of a Christie’s Auction appraiser. It was all there: the framed Colonial-inspired illustration of a fox by a river, the porcelain maple leaf shaped side dish with ‘CANADA’ sprawled across it, and the three sizes too big Sonia Rykiel jumper with a smiling rainbow. I was pretty impressed with my haul.
Inspecting these items three years later is a little harder to do, for the very reason that I no longer own any of these things. After the initial honeymoon period, each item went to cupboard purgatory. The jumper went straight to the wardrobe and was never upgraded to wooden coathanger status. The side dish’s peculiar shape and unwillingness to neatly stack with the other side dishes meant it was sent to exile in the back of the kitchen cupboard. And the illustration lived in the ‘We might need this one day’ cupboard at my parents’ house, which truthfully is the ‘Where things go to die’ cupboard.
I was buying junk for the sake of buying junk. Most things end up at the Camberwell market because somebody didn’t want them in the first place, and usually a new person comes along who genuinely does. In my case, the lifecycle is different: Somebody didn’t want these things, and quite frankly I don’t either, but I will pay them to pretend I do.
It was clear I had a problem.
It became apparent to me that there’s a reason the saying doesn’t go: Someone’s trash is someone’s gold. That’s because no one throws out gold. Ever. I needed help and someone to show me market enlightenment. The type of person who finds gold, not treasure, at Camberwell Market, and I knew just the person to send me on my spiritual way. My friend and stylist, Nat Turnbull.
The first difference between me and Nat is that she collects junk professionally, I do it for leisure, therefore she is really good at it. The second difference is that what she finds is not really junk at all. We could be looking at the exact same stall and we could pick up the exact same thing. Except when I put that thing down and never give it a second thought, she will see a world of potential. She will buy it, then put it in a high octane shoot and make it look ten times more expensive then what she paid for it. Meanwhile I am left stumped and thinking: “That could have been mine. I still don’t know exactly what it is but I know I definitely want it.”
“Try looking at things out of context and using them in a different way,” she suggests as she picks up a ceramic toothbrush holder off a table. “It’s like breathing new life into something.” Nat buys the toothbrush holder, which at the time, I find to be a very unhygienic investment. Two weeks later, she has painted the toothbrush holder, tipped it upside down, and used it as sculptural piece in a shoot. I ask where she got it from and how expensive was it.
Walking through the carpark maze with Nat is a very relaxed and zen experience. She knows all the stalls and edits her journey with clear precision. Nat does not stop to look at every store, she only stops at the stores worth looking at. “There is always so much stuff,” she says (as I debate whether I need to buy a Tiki carved timber hand). “You have to learn to pick your battles.” I put the hand back.
A few stalls down there is a table of 1940s miniature animal shaped glass perfume bottles. Hundreds of them, it’s a pet shop menagerie, if all the pets were frozen in time as balloon-shaped animals.
“Look at that junk!” I secretly hope Nat will pat me on the back for recognising junk when it is right in front of me, instead of buying it, and recognising it is junk 365 days later.
“They’re actually pretty cool,” she says.
It is not about dismissing junk as junk, but differentiating between what is good and what is damn right offensive to the human eye. Nat’s job is to produce something out of nothing and she preaches that one must “cut through the crap to get to the goods.” I look at the perfume bottles again. Intricate. Hand painted. And fucking mini Jeff Koons-style masterpieces. I’ll take the lot.
This story was originally published in Incu Edition with photography by Amelia Stanwix.