Life and chimes of Roz’s passion

“I LOVE clocks,” says the woman who’s surrounded by them. “And chandeliers. And taxidermy.” Clocks, lights and stuffed animals … that’s an accurate introduction to the New Norfolk store Roz Chapman has owned for close to 20 years. This place, 20th Century Artifacts, is jammed to the rafters with all manner of memorabilia and collectables, minutia, antiques and old wares.

“The selection criteria is anything that catches my eye,” says Roz. “Anything at all. As Oscar Wilde said, I can resist anything except temptation.” Around here, Roz calls herself by the old-fashioned term, proprietor.

She came from Adelaide via Sydney, a computer programmer by trade who decided to move to Tasmania in 2003, stuffing husband, kids, dogs and cats into an old ute and pointing its nose south. A couple of containers full of her earlier collectibles soon joined her. Among the multiple assemblages are those of clocks. This place is full of them, from the grandest of grandfathers down to carriage clocks and that’s before you get to the huge number of animated clocks – you know, where Mickey provides the hour and minute hands. And then there’s the pianola rolls.

Roz has literally filled a wall with their little boxes. For the unfamiliar, a pianola (or player piano) has a keyboard operated by an internal mechanism that produces music recorded on perforated paper, and sometimes metallic, rolls. The rolls have been in continuous production since about 1896, and are still being manufactured in the US. Roz’s store houses somewhere around 12,000 of the titles produced in the two-century interval.

“I get emails from New Zealand and as far away as England asking about a particular piece of music and calls from across Australia. The pianola has never gone out of style,” she says. Consider, too, a large cabinet towards the back. Its occupants include a half-dozen ventriloquist’s dolls, most prominently Charlie McCarthy, hugely popular in the US as the ventriloquist partner of the actor and performer, Edgar Bergen.

Also sitting in there is Gerry Gee, a Melbourne-raised doll of the ventriloquist Ron Blaskett. Gerry and a companion Geraldine Gee were made by in the postwar period by the Sterne Doll Company. And the dolls’ accommodations are just one cabinet in a store with dozens of them.

A peek inside the back storage room reveals a couple of thousand items, each awaiting inspection, cleaning, pricing – and critically, placing – in the already crowded display spaces Roz has at her disposal. There’s maybe 300 square metres in this store, substantial for the main street of New Norfolk, and that’s before you get into the attic. But once you’ve seen the storage space, even that appears insufficient.

Good thing Roz owns the building. And it’s not like she has nothing else to do. She’s the station manager and a volunteer at community radio station Tyga FM, one of the founders of the Derwent Valley Players and a former member of the New Norfolk Business Alliance.

This is a woman who doesn’t have a lot of time to worry about how she’s going to jam more objects into the confines of these walls. She loves what she’s put on display here, talks knowledgeably about this collection, that tea-set, these books or that coloured glassware. She loves this stuff, but she’s not hanging on to it. It’s all for sale.

“I do get sentimental over things, but I’m happy if I can find them good homes. I’m a caretaker … my job is to find loving homes for things.” Roz’s boys are grown up now, lives of their own. “They’re not really interested in this business,” she says. “It’s mum’s thing, they’ll say, and she can get on with it. “So I think, when I’m gone, they can do what they like with the building and the contents. Maybe they’ll get a good holiday in Europe out of all of it!”