My grandfather was a blacksmith in the steel mills of Middlesbrough. He made one-off parts.
He was allowed free range of the pile of offcuts and broken machine parts at the back of the factory and was renowned for making almost anything.
On retiring, at the age of about 70, he took to riding his bike to the ICI works where he "borrowed" broken sheets of perspex from the tip. Using a blow lamp and pliers, he made exquisite sculptures that were used for decoration in shops and pubs.
When I was teaching at Patea High School, a science laboratory was to be converted to a meeting room.
I went weak at the knees when the contractor said he would rip out the benchtops and burn them.
These were rimu boards two inches thick, three feet wide and up to 15 feet long.
They were painted and had the odd mark where pupils had carved names, but I told the contractor I would clear the room in a weekend for $50. One of the benchtops became a dining table and I still have one waiting for some work.
While living in Patea, we planned for our patch of land and wanted trees for the driveway.
Around the Patea school field there were pōhutukawa, banksia and gum trees. I picked up a few seed pods from each.
The milk factory at Hawera had misprinted a batch of wax milk containers, and were giving them away.
I got a box of them and used them to plant tree seeds in.
I needed a greenhouse for the seedlings so when I went to Patea tip and saw several sheets of corrugated roofing plastic, I "borrowed" them. I now have mature banksia and pohutukawa trees on my driveway.
The gums grew very quickly and, after being cut down, they provided a couple of years of firewood.
When we left Patea, I took the roofing plastic back to the tip. As I was about to heave it off my trailer, a man asked if he could have it. "Yes, of course," I said.
I hope he used it to grow more trees.
When we shifted to Whanganui, we moved a very old (a bit rotten but cheap) house on to the land, fully planning to demolish it and build a new house as finance permitted.
I found the floor of the old house, although covered in broken, glued-down, linoleum, was solid heart rimu around 120 years old. I converted this to the internal doors for the new house.
I could tell you about the greenhouse I am building using window glass from a demolition site and roofing steel from the old house but I have run out of space.
When we need something, we have been conditioned to simply buy it.
It is much more satisfying and ecologically moral to build something using pre-used materials.
We just need a bit of co-operative effort to share skills and materials.
Frank Gibson is a science teacher. He currently runs the Whanganui Science Forum.
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