I inherited an eclectic array of postage stamps from Dad. ‘I didn’t even know he collected them’ was my first response. But then vague memories from my teen years of a friendship with the local post office manager in the gritty suburb of Reservoir, Melbourne. A chap who would hand over folded, crisp sleeves of this or that, which Dad would careful fold in to his jacket. I walked up and back with him on a few of those trips. Dad is still alive I should hasten to add. But there’s the rub. Not only had I forgotten he had collected stamps. But he has too. Not because he is busy with other things. But because, well, he just can’t remember. The stamps, so many in riotous colour, others in dull reflection of their times have proved a visceral connection but the day after I received them I’m trying to work out my response. It’s been more emotional than just receiving goods handed down. These little pieces of paper speak to something else.
The stamps given by that manager in Reservoir were of course Australian stamps. Dad was new to the country and he surprised me at the time by his interest in these very quintessential representations of his new country. The trouble was he was struggling to fit in, a man out of place, country lad in a big city, New Zealand DNA struggling with the Australian grafting. Perhaps his collecting of these stamps was one way to handle being out of joint.
Oddly enough I had no interest in Australian stamps. I was handed his collection in case there were stamps which would plug holes in my New Zealand collection. As indeed there have been. In fact I thought I was being handed New Zealand stamps but to my astonishment not only were there New Zealand stamps but a collection of Commonwealth countries including and especially the Pacific Island countries and territories. Why had he settled on these? But why his eye fell on these is a moot point really. Why do any of us collect anything at all? It’s a matter of the heart. Yet maybe that’s why these colourful collections have been so disconcerting.
It wasn’t a perfect collection by any stretch. But it was organised by country and envelopes carefully labelled, as were the tightly packed matchboxes used to store some of them. Dad has clearly ordered them with a plan in mind. A plan to put in an album I suspect, to build a library well crafted and respectable. But good albums are surprisingly expensive (archival paper, imported from Europe, full edge binding, inbuilt mounts and on and on) and my guess is that it was an indulgence he was not prepared to make.
The collection includes what appears to be gifts from people. Old parishioners perhaps. There are still some of those crisp sleeves from Reservoir, the stamps likely to have never moved out of them in the forty years since. There is a sense that these stamps have a personal history and connection. Hidden stories about whose hands they passed through and what messages they empowered that will now remain forever so.
That the stories might be lost is one thing. But what strikes me is that each box and envelope and ‘catalogued’ sleeve is an index to plans of projects. Dreams of a collection. There is likely a vague hope of an investment return. I now recall Dad purchasing sheets of stamps but have no idea where these might be. Sold perhaps, when things got tight. That stamps might ever be an investment may have come from Otago farmer Bill Harvie who showed Dad sheets and sheets of New Zealand proofs. Who knows? No, these little bundles don’t suggest investment but other dreams. And perhaps other links to his childhood which as the years progressed came to mean more and more. Miriam spotted the Commonwealth link. That certainly speaks to his love of Empire and the rightful place of the Dominions of which he was part. There were ties which seemed tenuous to me but the links to England were often couched as ‘home’, echoing his own father who was born there. He would never hear anything bad about Empire and it’s great modern day representative Winston Churchill is flawless. I never was able to have a measured conversation about the Singapore strategy or the return of our divisions from the Middle East. Montgomery is a saint. On him we are poles apart.
I drift back to the stamps, especially the colourful ones, speaking to a love of the natural world although he could be phlegmatically pragmatic about it as well. Food for the table, grist for the mill, offal for the garden, hides the use thereof. But he was steeped in agriculture and animal husbandry and if he had his druthers I know that’s where he would have preferred to be. White dots on the hills to the rest of us, he could discriminate at one thousand paces the Corriedales, Romney Marsh, Cheviots, Border Leisters, Drysdales and Suffolks. Okay, even I can sort the latter, black mask and socks giving them away. Samoan butterflies, Tongan fish and Papua New Guinea birds. That Pacific Island theme. We grew up with exposure to Micronesia, Polynesia and Melanesia culture and contexts but I’m not sure this was really his thing. Empire central, not its furthest flung claims. But then he was deeply connected to the New Hebrides via mentor Graham Miller so I’m prepared to believe an eclectic interest in that island chain.
That I’m even having to speculate about it tells its own sorry tale. How little I actually know. And it’s too late to enquire now. I wrote a biography of Herbert Money, a labour which struggled against Herb’s propensity to talk with deep knowledge about all manner of subjects but nothing about himself. Dad’s been the same it finally occurs to me. Assumptions built on snippets prove, over time, to be off the mark and I am now very wary of those of my own making. And others. Which leave me with less than I thought I knew. I suspect I am guilty of the same. I need to revisit my own stories I set out to lay down in this blog. It’s a big task.
It’s a few days now since the stamps were handed over and the notes above scribbled out. The emotional jolt I felt as I picked through the stamps has tempered as I have tried to work out why I felt the way I did. I still haven’t put my finger on it. I ordered a high quality album and it arrived this afternoon so next time I see him I’ll be able to show him what has become of his careful efforts. At least for a large number of his Australian stamps. But then he is suffering some form of dementia so it is highly likely he won’t make the connection. But it’s worth the effort. Or have I just purchased it for myself. Something by which to catch his dreams in a tangible way and for me to stitch together all the little cogs which now come to mind, prodded loose by these stamps. Cogs which made him tick. Something to trap the stories and the heart behind them before they all fade into the dark.
301,603 total views, 1,426 views today