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Monday, May 5, 2014

Australiana #3: Antiques in an Ancient Land

Paddington Antique Centre at Latrobe Terrace
Paddington is to Brisbane what Colaba is to Mumbai. It's posh, rich in history and architecture, sprinkled with many award-winning restaurants, mentioned in every tour guide and dotted with shops selling trinkets, books and antiques. After two months in this city, I finally wound my way up there – first, by taking a train to Milton and then hiking 1.4 km through some of the best landscape the city offers to the famous Paddington Antique Centre.

This English Mickey Mouse gas mask was for children who were scared of wearing gas masks

Since 1985, the Paddington Antique Centre has been functioning out of the old Plaza Theatre's premises. The centre has more than 50 dealers who stock all kinds curios, World War II memorabilia (mostly Japanese, British and Australian), Danish art, Chinese porcelain, hand-painted English tea-sets, Javan woodworks, daggers from Syria, swords from Philippines, jezails (traditional guns) from Afghanistan, telescopes, buttons and brooches, Givenchy jewellery, French lace, cameras and binoculars, furniture, vintage clothes (corseted gowns and disco jackets) and trunks. It is part museum, part cafe, part bookshop and part store. There is something for every pocket. What I missed was the Australian stuff, the Australiana, as they say. Sure, they had a couple of boomerangs and Australian pottery (which looked like a cheaper version of Chinese clay art) but that's about it. Everything else, had been sourced from elsewhere or brought to Australia from Britain, Europe or Indonesia or China or Japan.

Australia is an ancient land. Yet, there are few things ancient that a stray traveller may come across besides the landscape. The immigrant history starts in the eighteenth century. The Aboriginals' history has been around for over 50,000 years but much of it is secretive. The two don't mix and so Australia has few things it can sell to tourists in antique stores. It relies heavily on what immigrants from other countries had brought with them first as convicts, then as sailors, then as founders, then as traders and then as hopeful conquerers (like the Japanese during the Second World War). The immigrants settled in their own cultural pockets and held onto their heritage and heirlooms. The Paddington Antique Centre has done well to collect these items from diverse communities and put them under one roof so that it gives a traveller a gist of the people and cultures that have come in contact with this remote land. In a country where cultural boundaries are water-tight, this is no mean task.

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