A head fundraiser in the Hardstaff household. By Romy Ash.

Fundraiser Teddy Hardstaff

There’s a loaf of Wonder White and a sixpack of glazed supermarket doughnuts at the centre of the kitchen table. Hot pink and rainbow sprinkled. It’s a big table, takes up the whole kitchen. The walls are busy with wallpaper, a red foliage print that grows from the linoleum to the ceiling. It feels like Teddy’s whole family is here, though I find out later there are more sisters, another brother. In the lounge the daughters sit in the dark, the curtains drawn on the day. Every now and then I can hear them laughing like teenagers at their parents, but these women are middle-aged, and Teddy, he’s 70.

Teddy Hardstaff is talking about his dad who collected for Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. Teddy’s been collecting for the RCH, too, for pretty much his whole life.

“When Dad died in ’89 I started doing it, but I used to help Dad since I was 14. I went on the road,” he says. “When my dad first started doing it, they used to wheel a wheelbarrow from the Essendon Aerodrome to Flinders Street to the Herald and Weekly Times office. Full of change. People used to just throw into the wheelbarrow.”

One of Teddy’s sisters, Kay, is snug up against me at the table. She’s quick to smile and to tease Teddy. “He would just walk,” she says, “and people would toss.”

Teddy’s dad worked for Streets ice-cream. “We used to have a lot of ice-cream,” says Bobby, one of the sisters, brushing wispy grey hair from her face.

We’re in Bobby’s house. This is the house they all grew up in, the house their grandfather built. They argue over when it was built. Using a complex calculation of various relatives’ ages they decide on at least 90 years ago. It’s a beautiful California bungalow, with a garden out front.

“It was Dad, Billy and Len. I can’t remember second names. The three of them at Streets ice-cream decided to do it. I think Lenny’s son or something got sick,” says Teddy. “Oh yeah, that’s right, that’s right. The guy who owned Streets ice-cream used to give them ice-creams to give away when they’re wheeling the wheelbarrow,” he says, as it comes back to him.

Teddy has a tin in any hotel that will have one, and on Saturdays he has his route, picking up the tins. He collects them in a trolley that gets heavier and heavier with each stop. “I’ve got tins in the Central hotel on Victoria Street, North Melbourne. I’ve got tins in the Albion Hotel on Curzon Street. I’ve got tins in the Limerick Castle, Arden Street… ”. Teddy goes on, drawing this map for me, of everywhere he’s got a tin. The last hotel, the last tin, is at The Brunswick Club, Sydney Road, just round the corner from where we sit now. He drags his trolley full of change up and down the tram stairs, in and out of the pubs.

Teddy’s got a drinker’s nose, and a face that cracks when he smiles. He’s got his T-shirt tucked into his tracksuit pants and he’s wearing the sensible shoes of an old man.

“Since Dad died in ’89 we’ve raised nearly $800,000. In spare change.” He’s shiny with pride, the kitchen is full with it. His sisters are proud, too: they nod and smile.

I ask Teddy what he used to do for a job. “I retired the day I turned 55 – I was playing darts and drinking beer, and I rung up on the phone and said, ‘I’ve just retired’.” The room rumbles with laughter.

“I was a french polisher. Then I went into the building trade. All these portable buildings you see around: I built most of them.”

“You didn’t build them,” Kay says.

“Oh, I didn’t build them, I was in charge of them: plumbers and electricians and painters. I was in eight different unions when I worked. I’ve lived in Brunswick all my life. The Brunswick Club, that used to be a picture theatre.”

“Was it?” says Kay.

“Yeah. Then it went from being a picture theatre to a fighting stadium. That was when Uncle Joe used to fight.”

I interrupt, “Are you just going to keep collecting until you cark it?”

“Yep, yep, I might as well,” he says.

“I don’t know who will take over then,” Bobby says. She has a lovely raspy voice. “We’re too old,” Kay says.

“It’s all right, it’s all right,” says Teddy. “I got me grandsons on the job.”

He goes back to talking about the good old days in Brunswick, when you called your neighbour “Aunty”, you ate broken biscuits from the factory on the way home from the pictures, and every Monday night on Albert Street at the Brunswick tip they set the rubbish on fire and the suburb was filled with smoke.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on August 13, 2016 as "Insisters of charity".

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Romy Ash is a novelist. Her first book, Floundering, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award.

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