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Centre for Stories

Terry Hawser

"We put it in the auction at twenty dollars as an estimate, then found out later, basically straight away, people started ringing us and saying that they’d pay seven hundred dollars for that."

A Few Of My Favourite Things follows five individuals and the personal anecdotes behind their wonderful collections. With each telling, the knick-knacks and memorabilia are brought to life with many a laugh to be had. It’s true what they say—one person’s rubbish may be another’s treasure.Terry Hawser is a collector of many things, namely colonial bottles in all shapes and sizes. He shares his digging and scuba diving adventures in search of these treasures, and gives us a glimpse into the past history of Australia.

Click play to hear Terry’s story, or read a written version below.My name’s Terry Hawser, I was a cadet initially in the Title’s Office in Perth in Hay Street, and virtually continued in that career for my entire life. I retired about four years ago—which is a good thing, but I haven’t had any time to spare since, so I don’t know how I did all the things previously to that!

Terry Hawser's bottle collection displayed on shelves

So, having started collecting in 1971-ish, a club was formed, and that became the Colonial Bottle and Collectors Club and later became incorporated. I joined the Colonial Bottle Club in 1974 and I’ve been a member of that club ever since. I’ve been president, secretary, and on the committee for many years. But certainly, I was collecting before I got into the bottle club. I also take on the role to help post out our magazine which is called The Little Bottler and that’s a bi-monthly magazine. And people contribute to that, so it’s in full colour now and it’s probably—outside auction catalogues—probably the best catalogue or best magazine, or such, for any club in Australia.

We started collecting gemstones in the 1960s and a friend suddenly—with his father—was down in Swanbourne, at the Swanbourne tip. They were collecting bottles and I thought that was absolutely crazy. So after about twelve months of listening to all these bottles and items and toothpaste lids and things that he was finding, we incorporated trips together out to the goldfields.

And in those days, we weren’t being paid very much, and to get from Perth to Kalgoorlie and out to Broad Arrow and Grants Patch and places like that, it cost sixteen dollars for the round trip in fuel. But that was more than two week’s wage.

So each time that we went out there, it was really quite exciting, but we got out there as much as we could and we incorporated gem collecting and bottle collecting, and then I moved away from gemstones—the collecting of bottles was far more exciting. And we developed a dug collection from that. My wife would always say that what we couldn’t afford was what we didn’t have, and the only way you were going to build a bottle collection was to dig it. But things have changed over the years. So we moved from there probably into a few international pieces like Doulton and Royal Doulton, very English. And then moved into black glass which is generally all European or English. And now we’ve got a very diverse collection of everything, and then moved onto demijohns or big stoneware jars for aerated waters and various chemicals, and that’s probably my major interest right now. And we have quite a good collection of that.

We were also fishing with a boat in the early days, and we used to go out around Garden Island and Carnac Island, and when we ventured onto Carnac Island, of course we weren’t overly aware that that was a haven for tiger snakes and dugites! But we went in there, and we found the remains of the establishment where there was a little bit of a well and things like that. We picked up a little, a small, probably a consideration of about a six ounce bottle we classified as a Torpedo, or a Hamilton. We had no idea what it was and we gave it to my uncle who wanted to take it to the museum and identify it. It looked like a little bomb or something like that, that had been dropped out of an aircraft—we were very naïve in the early days. And we found out later that it was a soda water bottle. So from there, basically, it’s still hanging on the wall in the shed. It’s probably only worth a couple of dollars but it comes with a lot of provenance as where it came from. They’re used in hotels, they’ve got a pointy end and a cork stopper, and once the cork’s taken out, they’re put into racks, upright racks if they’re not used, and they’re usually used for whiskey, soda and things like that.

Collection of demijohns displayed on shelves

I started work in 1969 and I met my very good friend—and we’re still very good friends—and he stopped collecting bottles, but I’m storing all his bottles for him and I’m getting him back into the interest of it. We’re the same age and we still speak very well about bottles and all the times that we went to the gold fields and certain digs we did and he also dived on the long jetty with us. We did scuba diving and everything so we don’t just go recreation diving, we would always look if there was a bottle at the bottom of the ocean and we would always pick it up to see if it was something of any use. And things were discarded over the side of boats and then any ships that couldn’t anchor at the long jetty, they all had to anchor off shore and of course, most of the things went over the side.

And you could find where the galley was because there was huge amounts of bones, like animal bones, crockery, knives and forks and all the broken things were all discarded straight over the side.

Where the edge of the ship was, they were just prolific. Just huge amount of bottles. And particularly the ones we found were from Geraldton—what we call a blue bomb or the ones we called Jose’s soda waters and things like that—were all found generally in a particular area on the jetty. So we knew where to look for them. We found where ships anchored—international ones—and we were getting bottles from England, India, Calcutta and Singapore and Straits, and things like that.

If you’re digging special like where we are today, and any old block around Perth, as soon as the building comes down, you can guarantee that day, there would be a group of diggers or one digger on the site, whether authorised or unauthorised, probing the backyard for rubbish holes. Because Perth is all sand and in the early days, there was not much rubbish disposal.

Collection of aerated bottles displayed on shelves

Generally, it was all buried in the back yards, which is an absolute treasure trove of gear, or you might get practically nothing. Depends on how wealthy the people were. The wealthier the people, the more cool drinks they drank, and the more other drinks they drank—alcoholic drinks. And once you dug on the site, almost once you put the shovel in the ground and dig the first hole, you can almost now, these days, tell exactly when that rubbish was put in the ground within a five to ten year range, or almost precisely. And the exciting thing about digging—why people dig—is you don’t know what’s gonna come out of the next shovel full.

I think people consider that bottle collectors are mad, and I think some are! However, it’s a very—it is an exciting hobby, and I could say, yes, when you want something, most people reach into their wallet and try to buy it. It’s a passion you see, that other people have around the world—they have to collect a particular bottle, they chase that bottle their entire life—I don’t know what they do after that!

But, in collecting in general, it’s probably classified as the biggest hobby in the world, which is quite amazing. People are paying tens of thousands of dollars for some of these things now and it far outweighs stamp collecting and coin collecting as a hobby.

There was a particular bottle in our last auction which was a screw top thirty-two fluid ounce Viking brand bottle, with a Viking’s hat and helmet on there. We put it in the auction at twenty dollars as an estimate, then found out later, basically straight away, people started ringing us and saying that they’d pay seven hundred dollars for that, and then it went up to twelve hundred dollars and then we found that at the auction someone had actually put in a bid of three thousand four hundred, and then we heard that someone was going to pay four thousand for it! And virtually at the end of the day, at the hammer price, it went for three thousand one hundred dollars. In our early days, we would’ve classified it as a five dollar bottle. This is probably the most important thing—the general public should not throw anything out!

Photo of C.M.S stamp face for a bottle, next to bottle with the same stamp detail

Never throw out your parents things or your grandparents things. When that all goes into the rubbish tip, it could be something absolutely fantastic whether its bottles, tins, or any other form of anything from your family. You should go out and seek help and ask and see if it’s worth anything. A genuine person would give you an idea if something’s worth something. But a lot of stuff’s gone into the tip unfortunately. We’ve heard of houses that have been cleaned out and just dumped into the skip bin where even one item in that entire collection could be worth something. So that’s just probably, I think, the best advice I can give in this interview for people if they listen to this—do not throw anything out that’s old, just seek some help.

So, I’ve got to the point where I don’t have to put more pieces on the shelf. I look at everything everyday, and I admire all our collection every time I walk past it no matter where it is. But my main goal in life right now is to research and write and be able to help the general public with the research we do, the hours, and hours, and hours, the hundreds of hours we put in. [I hope] that they will read an article and think, ‘Oh yeah, that was okay’. Maybe they will appreciate how much time goes into it, just like writing a book I suppose, when I see all the books in this room! And we always want to be able to introduce new things like a new website and anything new that we can do to just embrace the general public who might need to know these things.

Display of various collectibles in front of a stained glass window with the words 'Midland Junction Aerated Water Co'Copyright © 2019 Terry Hawser

This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.

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