My collection - Cherished bargain treasures

By John Lewis

Every picture on the wall, every piece of furniture, throw-over rug, table decoration or knick-knack in Tessa Pynor’s loungeroom comes with a story.

There’s the big solid wooden cabinet with lovely glass-fronted doors found covered in oil and cobwebs in a shed.

Or the bookshelf destined for the tip, found at the back of a Hay clothes shop.

Or the faded, but still cheerful, print of Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers — bought for $2 in an op-shop in West Wyalong.

‘‘Op-shops and second-hand places have always given me a buzz — a sort of joy,’’ Tessa says.

‘‘They’re full of nostalgia and you feel like you’re giving back to the community. Then you also meet like-minded people,’’ she says.

Tessa uses old suitcases as drawers to pack away her clothes and other items.

She has stripped paint and doors from wooden cabinets and placed baskets inside them packed with bits and pieces.

An old sofa is given new life with colourful throw-over blankets and, dotted around the loungeroom, are vintage pictures with a religious theme.

A favourite is Mother Mary.

‘‘I love these — people would have looked at these every day for inspiration,’’ she says.

Then there’s her collection of vintage lolly tins with paintings of cute dogs.

‘‘This is how we did packaging, before plastic,’’ she says.

‘‘It’s all about reduce, re-use and recycle. I try to tell the kids it’s important, and we can all do our bit,’’ she says.

Born in Papua New Guinea and raised in Australia since she was two, Tessa says she began going to op-shops as a teenager growing up around Temora and Hay in NSW.

‘‘In Hay they had one called the Royal Far West and I remember walking in one day after school and getting an instant feeling of warmth.

‘‘It was the 90s grunge era and I found a pair of cargo pants which I cut into shorts, then I wore them until they fell apart,’’ she says.

Whenever she took the train to Melbourne she would stop at Rochester and browse the town’s excellent op-shop.

‘‘I still go there. It’s really old-school, you can browse the bric-a-brac and get down on your hands and knees and rummage around,’’ she says.

A lot of charity shops may be modernising their service and surroundings, but Tessa likes the clutter and the chance of a surprise find that the older places offer.

‘‘People say they hate the smell of op-shops. But I love it. It smells of history and nostalgia,’’ she says.

However, Tessa says she does sometimes have problems convincing her three children aged 16, 12 and 10 about the joys of op-shopping.

‘‘My kids hate it. They’re always being dragged into op-shops and sometimes I have to bribe them so I can go in for a quick look,’’ she says laughing.

When it comes to choosing her most treasured op-shop find, Tessa pulls out a dog-eared paperback with the title I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings — the memoir of American writer, singer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou.

‘‘I found that in a little op-shop in Melbourne near a train station when I was 16 or 17. I was intrigued by the title and the cover. When I read it I was like ‘Wow!’ — this woman is amazing,’’ she says.

She went on to read all Angelou’s books and was overjoyed when she found a complete collection of her works years later in a Shepparton op-shop.

‘‘If I’d never gone into that little shop in Melbourne I would never have come across her. My life is so much better for reading that book.

‘‘Her life story is inspirational. You see her quotes everywhere on the internet now — but not many people know anything about her.’’

Before I leave, Tessa tells me about her childhood memories — contained in a collection of small glass bottles dug from the sandy banks of the Murrumbidgee River near Hay.

Finally, she mentions some ceramic bowls left in a bag at her front gate.

‘‘People know I collect stuff so they leave me things. It’s called ‘fairy dropping’. It’s lovely,’’ she says.