If you’ve driven along Cotter Road at any point over the past 33 years, you’ll know the white van.
‘Ron’, aged 74, has set up shop on a gravel patch near the Tuggeranong Parkway slipway in Weston to sell “fresh cut flowers and roses” to passers-by nearly every day since 1990.
“This van is this man,” he laughs.
“Some people stop to buy a bunch or two, then there’s maybe another couple of hours of nothing, then another one or three.”
It’s never the whole day – just a few hours in the afternoon and evening to catch the rush of homeward-bound commuters – except in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day on 14 February.
“Some people upset and buy flowers.”
There’s certainly no missing him. Not only are there vibrant flowers, a beach-style umbrella and hand-painted signage, but the back of the van is also even fitted with lights for those dark winter evenings.
“It’s dark at bloody 4 o’clock [in winter].”
Ron hails from Serbia, where he worked in the eastern European country’s steel industry. His older brother, also a steelworker, moved to Australia’s ‘Steel City’ of Newcastle in the 1970s, and Ron followed suit.
In the 13 years he was there, he married and had a son and daughter, before the family decided to relocate to Canberra for something “different”. He manned a café at the Erindale Shopping Centre on weekday mornings before heading out to Cotter Road to sell flowers in the afternoon at a spot approved by the ACT Government. He then sold the café about 10 years later to devote his time to the flowers.
“Coffee is too much pressure on the heart,” he says.
Ron ended up in hospital several years ago after collapsing at home with a suspected heart attack. Years of regular medical appointments and follow-up operations in Sydney followed.
“Everything operation,” he says.
Since moving to Australia, the rest of his family in Serbia have also died, or as he puts it, “they all gone upstairs”.
“My father die, my mother die, my brother die, sister die, just me.”
He’s certainly not showing any signs of slowing down. Every month, he drives up to Sydney for a fresh batch of flowers from the markets to stock the van, and fulfil the odd order for birthdays and weddings.
“I’ll be here for another 20 [years],” he says.
“But I don’t know.”
If you’re still needing that last-minute offering to the god of love (or just brownie points), you know where to go. Bunches are $30 each, two for $50 and a box is $50. Bring cash.