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Little old ladies underground collective

By Helen Smart - posted Wednesday, 17 January 2007

If you still haven’t bought any Christmas cards because you can’t face the teeming CBD or, worse still, the megamalls like Highpoint and Chaddy, it might be worth trying the St Pauls VCOSS Card and Gift shop: A retail experience unlike any other.

Skulk around the Flinders Lane side of St Paul’s, which is just across from Federation Square, avoiding the self-conscious punkettes sitting on the side steps (The real punks at the Seaview Ballroom in the 80s woulda had them for breakfast, wouldn’t they Brownie?) and you’ll see an entrance to a little shady courtyard.

Then you’ll go through a couple of big Gothic doors, one of which is guarded by one fierce Little Old Lady who will ask you your quest. You will say you’ve come for the Card Shop and she will wave you on in the right direction, down through the catacombs. At this point bumping into Albus Dumbledore would be no surprise.


Once you have made it down the stone steps and through a narrow corridor you find a small dungeon full of faithful customers. You’ll see the cards, which are the Business, thumb tacked to the walls, one example of each with a code and number.

Not so fast! There’s a System!

If you don’t understand it, another Little Old Lady will whoosh to your elbow within seconds to explain it. To your right as you come in, there’s a box full of mini clipboards with forms on them (each one with its pen firmly attached, naturally.) The forms are like little invoices. You put down the codes for the cards you want, quantity, price per card and add it all up. No calculator, please. Then when you’re finished you go to the counter and give your little clipboard to the ladies behind the counter.

The cards come from many different charities, so you juggle what designs you fancy with causes you support - this year I’ve got the Brain Association, natch, and I always like Amnesty with their multilingual and secular salutation. Pee cee multiculti? Bite me. There’s Riding for the Disabled, MS, Red Cross, different hospitals, Alzheimers association … They are mostly between 60 cents to a dollar. There are presents like barbeque aprons and tea towels tacked to the wall, too.

It’s cool and quiet and nothing hurts your ears and eyes with Red-Nosed Reindeers and other such aural slush. There is gentle banter that reminds you of pineapple slices at the Junee CWA.

Once the counter ladies have your clipboard they disappear into a vast set of shelves filled with shoeboxes. None of this newfangled computerised stock control here! Using their Special little-old-lady Powers they locate your stuff and give it to you to pay for at the big old cash register. Most of them are 70 if they’re a day, some older. They do this for the love of it.


I don’t see any Little Old Men working there - perhaps they’re at home watching the cricket and moaning because Mavis isn’t bringing them afternoon tea.

Now if I could only find time to write, address, stamp and post all these cards.

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First published in Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony on December 19, 2006. It is republished as part of "Best Blogs of 2006" a feature in collaboration with Club Troppo, and edited by Ken Parish, Nicholas Gruen et al.

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About the Author

Helen Smart blogs at Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony.

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