Home life Retrospectives

The garbologists

Nowadays I have a camera in my mobile phone, so virtually anywhere I am, I can take a picture.

There was a morning, back in 1993 or so, when I wish I’d had a camera with me. I was waiting for a tram to work outside my old flat in Power Street, Hawthorn. That place was what you’d call “handy for public transport”. The city-bound tram stop was literally at the end of the driveway; to Camberwell and East Burwood was across the street. If you were headed towards the city, you could hear the tram screeching around the corner, just down the road, so you knew if you had to hurry to the stop. The railway station was 8 minutes’ walk away, down the sidestreets, and overall this was the quicker to get into the city on weekdays. Two other tram routes (69 and 70) were also in walking distance. It was PT heaven.

So anyway I was waiting for a tram to East Burwood when two garbage trucks came past, one in each direction. They stopped opposite each other, and the garbos on the back of each one jumped off to empty numerous bins into the backs of the trucks. They probably acknowledged each other too, in that non-waving, nod of the head and gruff “uhhh” kind of manly way. They finished with the bins, threw them back onto the nature strip and jumped onto the backs of their trucks and drove off.

I think it was soon after that that they phased out that kind of garbage collection, in favour of wheelie bins. Such a picture would have captured an everyday scene which, like chimney-sweeps and milkmen, have completely vanished from the landscape. When I was a kid, the garbos generally came past very early, at least when we lived on main roads like Hotham Street and Inkerman Road. We sometimes jokingly referred to them as garbologists.

It came to mind because I was clicking around on the council web site and found a page about the phasing out of recycling crates, also in favour of wheelie bins. Apparently ongoing reforms to workplace health and safety had a part in it, though I suspect mechanisation and single-person operated garbage trucks are simply much cheaper to run.

I wonder if anybody documents this kind of thing? (This one from Sydney was the closest I could find on a quick look in PictureAustralia. And check this great photo of a milkman and his son.)

To get to the point: I rang up the council yesterday to arrange to swap my 240 litre general rubbish bin for a 120 litre one. I rarely put more than about 30 litres per week in it, and although it doesn’t save much annually having the smaller bin (about $30 I think), I thought I might as well switch so the bin takes up less space. Besides, the bin I inherited when I moved in has a small hole in it.

Evidently I have to leave the bin lying down on the nature strip, like a disabled turtle, and they’ll come past sometime in the next few days and switch it over. Easy.

Edit: A link in the original post hid a bunch of text which left it making no sense. Link removed.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

7 replies on “The garbologists”

If you’re ever in New York, you can see the mechanization and efficiency of garbage pickup. First, a guy walks along, takes out the full bag from the bin on the street, then relines the can and puts the bag by the street. There is a bin on each corner, and later on a truck comes down the street, slows but doesn’t come close to stopping (15 km/h perhaps) and the bloke on the back grabs the bag, and in one motion heaves it in to the truck while the truck speeds off to the next bin. It is really actually amazing.

I was a garbo about 20 years ago, while I went to college and uni. I’d be at work by 4:30am, and run and lift bins for three and a half hours. That left just enough time to have a shower and get to school. The pay was $100/day after tax. It was amazing money back then for a school kid. I had more spending money than my mum and dad (hmm – maybe I should have given them some). I probably managed it twice a week during the school term, and four times a week during the holidays.
I went from being a weedy bloke to having muscles on my shit – as my friends would say.
It was stinky. On my first run, I tipped a bin over my head as I struggled to empty it, and swallowed some huge maggots. I remember feeling them wriggling down my throat, despite all my efforts to release them. My hair was soaked with maggot juice. Some people would clean their back yard of dog poo and pile it straight into the bin. When I pulled the lid off at shoulder height while carrying it to the truck, it would spill over me. Normally I would crush those bins in the compactor and we take them away. No doggy-doo packers ever complained – I guess they knew they had done wrong.
It would get to -8 degrees in Canberra and the only way out of the freezing wind while speeding between jobs was to climb in the back with the rubbish. That stank too.

Funny you mention that milkmen have gone the way of the dodo. There was an article in the Baltimore Sun paper today. I am on his milk route and it’s great. They also have eggs and meat (lamb, beef, chicken) no hormones, organically raised… I am finally buying local instead of buying stuff shipped from halfway around the world or on the other coast of the USA. Here’s a link to the article about our dairy.

We used to get bread delivered too, hot and crusty and we would wait by the front door for the bread truck, race to collect the bread and tug at my Aunts apron strings for the hot crusts as she made our lunch.

We always used to leave a couple of Long Browns out for the Garbos at Christmas. I always wondered if they showered before drinking those. Did they get trashed accidently ? Did everyone do it and there was a special truck for Christmas with a Long Brown storage cabin ? OK, I was a kid…

Ahhhh, Crusty hot bread, milk in glass bottles with cream on the top and being up early enough to wave to the Garbos. :)

“Nature strip” – I presume you are referring to the grass strip between the sidewalk and the street? Some years ago in a college class the professor asked the students (all from various parts of Ohio, USA) to tell what they called that strip. We came up with a number of terms – city strip, devil’s strip, no man’s land, tree lawn – depending on what corner of the state we were from, but I had never heard it called the nature strip before. Thanks for adding to my collection!

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