MY sister left home at 16 and it's part of family lore how she declared she'd rather sit on the floor than buy second-hand furniture.

She's been paying the high price of hire purchase ever since, mind you. Peas in a pod we're not, my sister and I.

I was reminded of her declaration recently, as I admired a beautiful 1950s lampshade I'd picked up at Hayward's Auctions for the dining room - and realised every item in the room had belonged to someone else before it arrived here.

Bookshelves were the first purchase, via Trade Me. The captain's chair in the sunny corner was a find at Curiosity on Guyton St, sadly closed now.

Advertisement

The oak table is from Hayward's, and I particularly love it - not just because it's beautiful and perfect for the space, but because it's the same as the one at which I ate Sunday roast dinners at my grandmother's house, when my legs were too short to reach the floor.

I had to be patient, but eventually a set of chairs came up at Hayward's, too.

Hayward's Auctions is a Whanganui institution and one I love. Once upon a time, there were auction rooms dotted around Whanganui; now Hayward's is the last left one left standing between here and Wellington.

Brian has been in the game for 25 years and he says business is good but he and his wife Nicky work hard at it.

Brian is a terrific auctioneer and his peripheral vision is something to wonder at - the man never misses a bid, even when the auction house is thronged with people.

Their antique and collectible auctions, of which there have been a few recently to dispose of the massive estate of local collector Doug Wilson, draw people from around the lower North Island.

The regular Thursday night auctions draw a local and regular crowd. Some are intent on winning a particular item, others settle in for an evening's entertainment. Bryan has a dry sense of humour and perfect timing; you can be sure of a laugh.

Trade Me has done in many auction houses, but so have changing retail patterns. Rob Leask, who ran Curiosity with his wife Camilla, knew his customers and had a great eye. Their shop was full of exquisite things. But the bottom had fallen out of the market in recent years; the older folk who collected fine china were gone and people didn't want to pay even their reasonable prices for hand-made, beautiful, solid-timber furniture made from oak, walnut, rimu or kauri.

Advertisement

They'd rather go to the big box stores and spend the same money on something new, on interest-free terms, Rob said.

Never mind that it was made from MDF or the cheapest pine. Perhaps it was even NZ radiata, shipped to China as a raw log and processed there into cheap furniture - shoddily put together with noxious glues and cheap finishes.

So much knowledge is being lost. The artisans who can craft quality furniture, for instance, are thin on the ground now. Sadly, so are the people who appreciate something built to function well, last for generations and look beautiful all the while. And whether it's tools or furniture or food, even those who can afford to pay top dollar for quality new items can be hard pressed to find it.

We're fortunate to have some excellent exceptions here in Whanganui, like master chair-maker Greg Betts, a shaper of elm and an artist with a spoke shave. And as for the made-in-NZ clothing at Kilt's outlet shop - what did we do in Whanganui to deserve it being located here?

But in general, we're swamped in an ocean of cheap junk and it seems to have reset our collective priorities and values.

In media, fashion and politics too, we mostly seem enthralled by what's new, novel and cheap. And cheap can be in terms of the time, attention and effort required to acquire something, whether information or something material.

And when I think about what I've observed in New Zealand politics in the past seven years, it's clear that honesty, integrity, humility and loyalty are not valued any more. They are not even seen as necessary, given the conduct of politicians who are voted back in by a weary public that too often excuses wretched conduct by saying, "oh they're all as bad as each other".

It's not going to get better until we start expecting better quality - as voters and as customers.

Rachel Rose is a writer, gardener, fermenter and fomenter.