A beautiful array of objects that have been found over a lifetime of collecting are a testament to the commitment Eric White has to preserving Bendigo's past.
His largest collection is still unfinished and he hopes to find the final glass bottles needed to complete his set, which date to Bendigo's earliest days of brewing.
His hobby began in childhood when, while walking home from school one day, a woman offered him some old bottles.
He became intrigued with the items and was set on a path which would lead to diving in the Murray River for discarded objects from the old steamers. The crews would ditch items over the side rather than store rubbish on board.
"I have an 1856 Cohns beer bottle which I found while diving,'' Mr White said.
"There's just a few bottles from Bendigo that I don't have and that's why I'm always advertising in the classifieds to try to get them. I watch the auctions closely as well."
Mr White has a vast array of smaller collectibles as well, including a horse race themed biscuit tin (seen in the video above).
Mr White hopes to find a rare Stewart's ring-sealed beer bottle from Eaglehawk and two marble bottles - one from Sandhurst and the other one from Bendigo.
"I really want those three or four bottles that are missing from my collection. That's why I advertise for shed clean outs, deceased estates. You never really know where these will come from."
Mr White also has range of small clear and tinted bottles which were once used for eucalyptus oil, lending parts of his display the look of an old-world apothecary.
A dive for bottles in 2013 with his adult son Ash lead to the discovery of a 1750's signalling cannon, which is now in his lounge room. It is fairly unobtrusive at about 84 centimetres long and has been restored and mounted.
"It was found in one of the earliest settlements in NSW. I rang the Melbourne Museum and then the NSW Maritime Museum to offer it to them, but both said I could keep it,'' Mr White said.
"The Melbourne Museum declined because it was found in NSW and the NSW Maritime Museum said 'no thank you' because it was found in fresh running water. The person who restored it pulled out the powder hole so it can no longer be fired. He also built a mount for it.''
Mr White's talent for collecting has extended to a variety of other pieces of nostalgia over the years.
He has an extensive range of early Bendigo pottery, including a variety of Sandhurst demijohns that were used to transport wine and spirits. The elegant neutral coloured pieces provide a gentle contrast to his more vibrant array of vintage signs, petrol bowsers, tins and tea containers.
"I have Bendigo pottery from the 1880s and I've gone as far as Queensland to buy some of it. That's where I was able to get the garden urn,'' he said.
The vibrancy of many of Mr White's pieces are an indicator of his love of detailed artwork and bright colours. The collection includes bottle caps, milk bottles printed with the names of iconic local businesses and even a very early Cohns showbag.
"I do like the bright and colourful pieces, there aren't many plain things. And I like the history they represent. The large red petrol bowser was bought in the Bendigo area and it had originally been on a family farm at O'Malley.
"It's really a buzz if you have been searching for 20 years and something suddenly pops up. Two weeks ago I found a Bendigo bottle at auction online and bought it."
Mr White belongs to the Sandhurst Antique Bottle and Collectables Club which helps enthusiasts exchange information and share their interest in rare items.
"There are probably about eight members but it fluctuates,'' he said.
"We usually run a show every year but the past two had to be cancelled due to COVID."
Previous swap and sell days held by the club have attracted hundreds of visitors. The collecting hobby has become a tradition in the White household.
"My son Ash dives with me, he has a collection as well," Mr White said.
"There are probably four big auction houses that have monthly or quarterly sales of bottles, signs and pottery. It is pretty big and it does get attention from many people.
"Every time you think you have all of something, another one will pop up. You keep looking and sometimes buy pieces but most of my things have come from diving."
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