Tribute to a proto-hipster

Sometimes it’s only once a person is gone and we have had a chance to reflect on their lives that certain talents or traits about them are finally recognised. Vincent van Gogh and his artist ilk are the best examples of this, but today I’m paying a tongue-in-cheek tribute to a man who I have only just realised was about 30 years ahead of his time – my dad*.

These days, recycled timber furniture; single origin, artisan or vintage anything; culture fusion; sourcing quality secondhand goods within your own community; offal, bone broth and superfoods all rate highly on the hipster scale. But who was doing all this way back in the ’70s? My dad, that’s who.


Culture fusion (or political incorrectness?) … Chinese Malaysian man living in Australia wearing pseudo native American headgear forced upon him by his daughters. And slippers.

From the time we were born, my younger sister and I were unknowingly being led down the path to hipsterdom. Tinned baby food? Pah! None of that nonsense for his kids. Dad liked to serve us lamb brains with scrambled eggs or duck gizzards with soy sauce, and sometimes we got a sip of the blackberry wine he’d made years earlier (one of his favourite stories was about how the dog got drunk after raiding the compost heap and eating the fermented must from one of his wine-making sessions). The wine was what would now be given the fancy title of “single estate”, seeing as all the blackberries came from the one patch. He also liked to collect seaweed from the beach and put it into soup (if he’d served this up at any restaurants recently he’d have made a fortune on “organic foraged bio-availability boosting broth”). Oh, and those goji berries everyone is raving about right now? Dad was drinking those heaped in boiling water more than 20 years ago in a bid to improve his eyesight, only back then he knew them as wolf berries and paid just a few dollars at Asian supermarkets for massive bags of them. No way would any Chinese hipster ever have paid the crazy prices on the tiny packets of “organic superfood” that people do now!

Having grown up in Malaysia during the war, Dad was highly skilled in the fine art of Keeping Things Just In Case (aka hoarding. Is it surprising my sister and I are both so good at accumulating clutter?). Broken light bulbs (helpfully labelled “broken” in pen on crumbling masking tape), a draft for a cover letter from 1975, spectacle cases from the 1960s and cellotape with no remaining adhesive quality whatsoever are just some of the things I’ve found squirreled away in boxes in the garage over the years. Also, several typewriters (how quintessentially hipster could you get!?). But he did sometimes retain useful items too, such as pieces of timber from pallets and crates. One afternoon Mum, my sister and I came home from an eisteddfod to discover he’d made an outdoor table from bits of a pallet he’d brought home from work. Back then, we thought it was hideous, but now, we know it was a seminal moment in the history of hipsters and it should have been revered as a sacred object instead of covered with a LONG tablecloth whenever anyone came over for a barbecue. Oddly enough, I don’t have any photos of that table**, but here’s something Dad made a lot earlier (I’m talking about the seesaw, not my baby sister).


Expert that he was in Not Throwing Things Out That Are Still Good (bread with only little bits of mould, for example) and a lover of vintage and artisan wares, especially if they were cheap, Dad was – just like Darryl Kerrigan – a fan of the Trading Post (which was basically the pre-internet version of eBay and Gumtree). I’m not sure how he managed to get a full set of play equipment home in his VW Beetle (I know, right? How much more hipster could he get?) without us noticing, but one morning he told us to go outside and suddenly, as if by magic, there was an entire vintage playground: a metal set comprising slide, double-seat swing and monkey bars in addition to the existing artisan tyre swing. He later built an adjustable set of bars from scratch and put in a climbing pole too, although he never did get around to building the flying fox I pestered him for. Probably he knew flying foxes just wouldn’t catch on with hipsters. I certainly haven’t seen anyone sipping artisan superfood lattes as they zip through the air on a cable lately, so it looks like he was right.


*His departure from this world last weekend came after more than a decade of far-from-optimum quality of life due mainly to a stroke, so it was not unexpected and although it might sound crass, to anyone who knew what he was going through, it was really a long awaited blessing.

**I don’t really regret not having a photo of the table but I do regret the lack of more evidence regarding my dad’s spin on cultural fusion. I’ll have to just describe instead how he used to wear a sombrero and a boiler suit while mowing the lawn. A Chinese guy from Malaysia, living in Australia and wearing a Mexican hat while gardening. Nearly as good as my Cantonese uncle who used to run a taco joint in Melbourne. What is it with Asians and Mexicans?