My father died recently, and I have spent a lot of time among the personal possessions he left behind, sorting, gifting, recycling, discarding, and thinking about what makes something ‘precious’—precious enough to keep, to hold on to for years, decades, perhaps for a life. In my experience, it rarely has anything to do with monetary value.
I remembered a guest piece I wrote for another writer’s blog some years back. The brief was to choose an object of literary value that was precious to me, but, as I prefaced my piece then, I chose an object that was neither precious nor literary…
Many years ago my father hired a metal-detector and went on a camping/prospecting trip to the Eastern Goldfields. He didn’t discover gold, but he came home with lots of stories. And this—a ring unearthed on the site where the gold-rush town of Kanowna once stood.
It’s made of thin brass, with a red ‘stone’ of some manufactured origin—the cheapest kind of trinket. But it fascinated me. Who had bought it, worn it, lost it, abandoned it? Did it mean something to them? How did it find its way into the red dust of the goldfields?
Years later, I went to the site of Kanowna myself—not to prospect for gold but because, by then, I had read a lot about what the town had been like at the height of the gold rush, a thriving place with a population of 12,000, far exceeding Kalgoorlie in municipal importance. I was keen to see for myself what was left.
I was shocked to find that the reality of an Eastern Goldfields ghost town is nothing at all like I’d been led to expect by Hollywood westerns. Our ghost towns are bare earth, razed to nothing, everything of value carted away.
But you can’t erase history as easily as that. Stories remain.
My first (and so far only) ghost story, ‘Rush’ (published in Inherited), came from thinking about these things, and I suspect this humble little ring has many narratives it could tell. But it’s precious to me for what represents. It inspires curiosity. It reminds me to dig. It makes me question absolutes like ‘deserted’ and ‘empty’ and ‘worthless’. It whispers ‘what if?’ What a writerly little thing it is.
Which I guess qualifies it, after all, as precious and literary.
Now, of course, it has become infinitely more precious to me—a bearer of the spidery kind of memories that spin personal and communal histories together, that summon a face.