I recently bought a property in a quiet rural hamlet nestled in the hills on the way to Mt Baw Baw. A chance discovery shone a light that you don’t have to be combatant – or even a civilian in a combat zone 15,000 kilometres from the actual conflict – to generate deep personal fear and anxieties about the future.
Shortly after I bought the place I heard rumours surrounding the property, the principal one being that a treasure had been buried on it by one of the previous owners.
There were claims that a person had found $7,000 in cash hidden away, another that a trove of military medals has also been uncovered.
These rumours could be traced back to one owner whose family had held the property since 1942.
That owner seems to have been quite an obsessive person.
Every shed and outhouse that had been built bore his name and the date that the building was started and completed.
The dates were on the hardwood frames, sheets of corrugated iron, and inscribed in the heavy concrete slabs that formed the foundation of the buildings.
One outbuilding had rough-hewn planks lining it with each plank for some unknown reason being numbered 1a, 2b, 3c etc. through to 13m along with the familiar name and dates.
They were buildings that had been built to last.
The owner was also keen on, concrete with random paths and slabs throughout the property.
It was someone else’s vision for the property, not mine.
So I decided that instead of trying to build on someone else’s design ideas, I would create a blank canvas of the overgrown property.
I got an excavator in and we started reshaping the property, pulling down sheds I didn’t need, ripping out the overgrown garden and long-neglected trees, and tearing up the concrete.
In the process we uncovered very old axe heads, old bottles, and other long-lost bric-a-brac.
We also discovered the real treasure on which the rumours must have been founded, and a poignant message of war that reverberated in today’s European threats.
My excavator operator is part of his machine. He has an intimate feel with it – the claw and bucket being almost sensory extensions of himself.
As he was ripping up one of the paths he felt a slight anomaly in the earth beneath his bucket. He lifted the bucket so that it just scrapped gently across a small buried object.
It turned out to be an old Nescafe coffee jar that had been carefully sealed and water-proofed in blue tape.
Inside the jar was a hoard of one and two-cent pieces, many of which had been numbered for some reason.
But it was more than just a hoard of coins in the jar. It also contained two notes written on the back of old Kellogg’s Cornflake boxes.
It was a personal time capsule buried in 1990 and the notes make for powerful reading about a man concerned for his and the world’s future. Its contents links the past with the current threat of war in Ukraine and the concerns that people around the globe must be feeling at the moment.
Below the notes are produced verbatim with the exception of the author’s name.
The first note reads:
‘United State of America has blockaded the Persian Gulf and could be the beginning of World War III.
I was born on 26th November, 1928.
I am 61 years 9 months old.
I wonder what the world will be like when this is found??
I am on an invalid pension which will be stopped soon, so said, in the Federal Budget yesterday, Tuesday 21-8-90.
All the best to you all that is left.’
The second is as follows:
‘22 August 1990.
The 1 cent and 2 cent coins are being taken out of circulation in the future, so I am burying this jar under the concrete.
My name is [deleted]. Owner of this 4 building blocks, 1 acre, since 1968.
My father and Aunt owned it since 1942.’
These notes are searing reminders that the threat of war and the fear it generates, even for those thousands of kilometres from the conflict, can echo personally even if not involved directly or indirectly in the conflict
The owner clearly had a view that Armageddon was about to be visited upon the world, something that as a young boy during the second world war would perhaps have been seared into him.
I am guessing many people are feeling exactly the same today about the conflict in Ukraine.
This war will be as threatening to some as the Gulf War was to the owner and that fear will be multiplied by the use of social media which brings the war directly into the palm of our hands via smart phones in real-time.
Even though we are thousands of kilometres from the epicentre of violence, we are now more directly linked to this conflict than any other in history.
But maybe the real message in the time capsule is that despite the fears generated by the current conflict in Ukraine, the end of the world is not nigh.
After all, the owner lived to find that his fear proved groundless.
It is something to keep in mind.
In the meantime, I have kept a few of his named and dated buildings which will preserve his memory that now, with the discovery of the time capsule, act as a reminder that the threat of war always hangs over us.
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