Letters to loved ones were written and received here. Telegrams studied, cheques written, gummy envelopes licked, livestock tallied and stores listed. I’ve seen a similar desk in a mail order catalogue circa 1900. Except this one sits solidly in my office, a box of old nibs in one of the drawers. They are the kind that use glass pots of ink making blotting paper de rigueur; remnants from an era of hard-learnt copper-plate writing and signatures made flamboyant with curlicues. It’s an old oak desk, brown and worn, the remains of a tree which in giving up its tenuous hold on the earth has now provided a place of hoarding. The memories of past lives reside here.
The rolled-top lid snakes up and inwards, rather like a turtle pulling its head inside its shell. Inside there are compartments for correspondence, personal letters and accounts and the writing space has room for that most important of tasks as well as an area for the stacking of ledgers. It’s a rather cumbersome item to have in a modern office. The plain, outdated pigeon-holes are at odds with the smooth, glossy surfaces of today’s work spaces. Laptops, printers and pinging mobile phones clash with its distant past.
Ordered from Anthony Hordern’s and crated for transit to sit on a chugging northward bound train, like so many items ordered and delivered back then, this desk arrived from Sydney at Garah, our closest rail siding where it was winched onto the rear of a horse-drawn dray and then trundled the forty kilometres or so to the homestead. It belonged to my grandfather and my father. Whether my great-grandfather used it as well is open to speculation, but it’s possible I’m the fourth generation to pile diaries, rain charts and ledgers on its well-loved surface.
Above – A shiny 1920s example of an English made Oak twin pedestal roll-top desk.
Sometimes I wonder about moving the desk. Storing it away where only dust would eventually remember its history, but there is something comforting in having it nearby. An old piece of furniture well-used through the generations, it has become family through association and I wonder what it might tell me if only it could talk.