The joyful cover art on Chasing the McCubbin by debut Australian author Sandi Scaunich depicting a garage sale wasn’t the only reason why I chose to purchase this book for my Australian reading/book buying challenge. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I like fossicking through other people’s unwanted bits and pieces, although I’m more likely to visit an Op Shop than attend a garage sale. Usually I’m looking for books so would probably bypass a painting by Frederick McCubbin in my hunt for books that I’ve been busting to read but unable to find!
Chasing the McCubbin tells the story of an odd couple, Ron and Joseph who teamed up to scrounge through hard rubbish collections and garage sales around Melbourne during the early 1990s. Ron had been buying and selling for years, but after the death of his wife needed assistance from someone to direct him to the advertised sales, then to help him to carry and load his purchases into his van for a percentage of the profits.
Since the death of his wife Ron’s health had continued to worsen but the possibility of finding valuable items in other people’s cast-offs had long been his obsession. The items Ron bought and sold supplemented his meagre income during the recession that Australia ‘had to have’.
Joseph was a troubled school-leaver from a poor area who had been unable to find a job when he unwillingly teamed up with Ron at the request of his mother. The recent death of Joseph’s older brother had left Joseph and his mother emotionally devastated and generally unable to cope with day-to-day life. Joseph’s tragic back story of family violence was told over the course of the story.
Each week Joseph and Ron met their fellow collectors at the garage sales, people who Ron had nicknamed according to their characteristics or by what they collected. They formed a community of sorts and consisted of The Crone, the Tool-Men, the Thief, the Record Men, Fritz the German and others. Over the course of a year Joseph began to learn from Ron which items were valuable and which were not, along with the more valuable lesson that families should value their own histories.
Viewing paintings by Frederick McCubbin gives me (and I suspect most Australians) a sense of belonging despite many of his paintings depicting an Australian bush life which very few people actually ever lived, except for in our romantic visions of ourselves. Since European settlement began in Australia more Australians have lived in cities than in the bush.
I loved that this story reminded me of scrounging through sheds on family member’s farms and hearing stories about the past generations who had treasured those items. I liked Ron and Joseph, the Melbourne setting and the period when the story was set. I’ll definitely read whatever Sandi Scaunich writes next.
My purchase of Chasing the McCubbin by Sandi Scaunich continues to satisfy my New Year’s resolution for 2021 which is to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (April).