Gary McGrath: Life of cans

FROM comic books, cars and art, to toilet seats, navel fluff and aeroplane sick bags - collecting has been around for centuries.  

It is a hobby well-known around the world, with some collectors going to enormous lengths to search far and wide to add to their precious collections. 

Gary McGrath, a Bendigo resident, is one of those collectors - although he stresses he is not obsessed with the hobby.  

Mr McGrath collects cans - beer cans to be exact - and has done so ever since the age of 13. 

"A group of about four of my mates would go to the bottle shop and there was always a couple of tall ones who would pass as 18," he said. 

"They would get us a bit of grog and we would sit down on Saturday night and drink.

"It was strange - we would pass as 18 and get some beer, and then we would go to the speedway.

"If you were 13 and under you would get in for free - we would pass for that.

"It worked out pretty well."

Mr McGrath said he would try different beers - whether it be Carlton Draught or Abbotts Lager - each week on purpose - in order to collect a new can. 

He said in 1972 during Christmas, Carlton United and Breweries, went on strike and could not continue supplying beer in Victoria. 

"South Australian companies were supplying Victoria and I thought 'you beauty'," he said. 

"There was West End, Coopers and all these new beers.

"I thought 'I have to get into this'."

Mr McGrath said his collection of cans continued to grow before he packed them away in boxes and forgot about them. 

It wasn't until more than 15 years later that Mr McGrath rediscovered the boxes.

"It was like Christmas when I opened them," he said. 

"I opened them and was like 'oh wow', I had no idea I had this and this." 

Mr McGrath said it wasn't until 1999 when he got in contact with Jill Major, the national secretary of the National Beer Can Collectors, that he resumed collecting.

Since he first joined the group, Mr McGrath has attended more than 10 canfests and has collected about 3000 cans - displayed in a room dedicated to his hobby.  

"Lots of people think 'oh you are a dork'," he said. 

"But when you see them in groups, like the South African animals or the Belgium Scenery cans, they look good.

"It brings back memories, when you see these cans, you remember them from years ago.

"But having said that when new ones come out, you have a drink of beer and it is too good to crush.

"So many people have one or two cans, they are too good to crush." 

When asked the question if can collecting had become an obsession - Mr McGrath was quick to reply.  

"Go and ask my wife," he said. 

"No, it hasn't.

"If I get new cans now, which I am starting to, if get them and put them on display I have to take another can away." 

Mr McGrath said his favourite can is the Three Stooges, made in Pennsylvania, while the rarest in his collection is a $300 Deep Cove from New Zealand. 

"The most-expensive cans I would know of, as far as Australian cans go, would be  the Courage Footy Stars which came out in the mid-1970s," he said. 

"There is one player for each of the 12 (Victorian Football League) sides then.

"I am pretty sure the minimum would be $100 per can and there are 12 to the set, but some of them are worth well over $1000 or $1500.

"I haven't got one of them - not one - because they are so hard to get.

"I wouldn't pay that much money for them, the most I have ever paid is $5 and that is for a Melbourne Bitter can for the Geelong Cup from 1987.

"When I stop to think about it there are a lot cans that are worth a bit."  

Mr McGrath's wife Sue said her husband's hobby means she is always on the lookout for interesting and rare cans. 

"As his wife I have to take some interest to go to the canfests," she said. 

"I look out for cans that he may not have.

"The social side of the canfests is great.

"You meet lots of people and are have fun."

Mr McGrath said he was looking forward to attending the canfest at the All Seasons Hotel at the weekend.

"It will be good," he said. 

"Hopefully find some rare cans to add to the collection."  

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