During the COVID lockdown, Doug Mulley did lots of things he didn’t normally do. He read books for pleasure, took himself on walks, cooked, and even took a nap in the afternoon if he felt like it.
What he didn’t do, having recently turned 65, was work to live – it was more the other way around.
“If this is what retirement is like, I thought at the time, I could see myself doing it … permanently,” he said. “Bring it on.
“I’d had a year where there was a lot of death and destruction in my life, and that sort of thing really makes you think. I had an accident about a year ago when my left hand was crushed. I’m still doing rehab on it so that’s also had an effect on what I can do.
“Although I still enjoy what I do, I thought maybe it’s time.”
Doug is a familiar face behind the counter of the Canberra Antiques Centre at Fyshwick, which he established more than 19 years ago. He’s the bloke you go to about brown furniture (“it’s popularity was on the wane but it’s picking up now”), art nouveau jewellery (“I just love it”) and anything with a bit of provenance, a history that tells you where it has come from, helpful for people who want to have it in their future.
Doug has run the business since 2003, over a 500-square-metre site in the heart of Fyshwick. It houses about a dozen collectible traders, ranging from Kookaburra Australian antiques, Nana Pearls’ kitchenalia, Out of the Ark vintage clothes, boys’ toys from Shed Hot, antique firearms from Steel and Shot and fine-china specialist She.
One of the issues of concern for Doug if he sells the business is the livelihood of the traders. “I feel quite protective and responsible for them, which is why I won’t sell to the first person who comes along. I want to make sure they’re right for the place and the people.
“I started this place from scratch and it’s now a very viable business. I’d hate to see that change.”
Doug said it had been in the back of his mind for some time to sell the business. But it was during the lockdown that he began thinking, more seriously, about it. But it had to be sold on to someone who shared his passion for the business, its collectibles and its clients.
Although he entered the trade about 30 years ago, Doug reckons he was never really interested in antiques at the start. What he was interested in was vinyl. Vinyl records and lots of them. At the height of his personal collection, he had about 10,000 records, “although I never counted them”.
One of his friends loved antiques, so he would go with them when they trekked through the shops looking for treasures, and then he started going to auctions.
“I remember thinking at the time how I couldn’t believe some people paid the prices they did for some things,” Doug said.
“I started selling things at auction just for fun and then another friend asked if I wanted to go in with them in an antique store.
“After I laughed, I thought, ‘why not’.”
Until then, Doug had worked as a radio announcer, all around the country, including the breakfast show on MIX-106FM in Canberra. He took long-service leave from the industry in 1997, and didn’t look back.
Unlike many involved in the antiques and collectibles industry, Doug never really collected anything after his vinyl ventures.
“I suppose it was because I’d been through so many houses, where you pick your way through what other people collected.
“I just didn’t want to be one of those poor old guys that someone else has to go through their stuff when they die.
“My rule has always been if you bring one new thing in, one thing in [the house] has to go.”
Even if something special takes his eye? “In this business, you get a bit blase about things,” he said. “Although I do love the art noveau era, all the good pieces that came out of that time – and jewellery, of course, that’s always desirable.”
Doug says he is seriously considering selling the business if he is approached by the right person or people. For the man who has put more hours into the Fyshwick business than he has seen pieces of “brown furniture”, a couple would be best placed to take over.
“It really needs at least two people to do this,” he said. “A dedicated couple could romp it in.
“But you have to have passion. Passion is what makes you work towards your goal – and achieve it.
“I’d sell it on a walk-in, walk-out basis but would have to make sure that all the traders here are looked after.
“The right person coming in here would do that.”
For more information about the Canberra Antiques Centre, go to the website.