Phil Sunman - The Collector!
Phil Sunman: I’m a caretaker of a Nostalgia factory. A custodian of old historical items, old tins, bottles, old collectable things, so I’m a custodian of old things.
And we’re not just talking about a cabinet or two; Phil Sunman has Millions, yes that’s right MILLIONS of collectible treasures hidden away behind this unassuming shopfront on Goodwood Road in Goodwood. It’s an Aladdin’s cave of bows, buttons boxes, porcelain and postcards, glassware and shop goods.
Leigh: Phil, this is the most extraordinary collection, when and how did it all start?
Phil: 1994. I had retired from the South Australian Education system I was a School Principal then, and I was unemployed for a week and I thought what am I going to do, so I turned to one of my passions, and that was collecting so I started this shop.
Leigh: What did you start collecting? Was it something that caught your eye first? Where you a collector of books or postcards or China? What was it initially?
Phil: According to my mother, at the age of 3 I had the biggest dinky toy collection on the block. This is in 1952. And I was trading in Dinky toys at the age of 3 with the bigger kids on the block.
And that trading has never really stopped! Now almost anything you can think of, you’ll find somewhere in Phil’s collection. And if he hasn’t got it he’ll certainly do his darndest to find it, making him a favourite of local film-makers as well as collectors.
Phil: I know Scott Hicks has been in; lots of people are making movies that are looking for particular parts of their sets. We’ve done a lot of movies here in South Australia, the Rabbit Proof Fence, the December Boys, lots of films where they want very specific things, so we help provide the information and the exhibits; we lease them out or sometimes sell them to the film companies.
Leigh: So you’re the man to come too when you can’t find it anywhere else in Adelaide?
Phil: I’m the go-too man. Yes, yes. I do like research and looking around for particular things, the more challenging the better.
Phil’s treasure trove also houses a veritable feast of South Australian history with an extraordinary collection of memorabilia, such as postcards, diaries and photographs tracing life in our state back over generations.
Phil: Some of the stories are the most amazing, for example a collection of Gallipoli postcards, that was brought in here not long ago, a 17 year old boy from Adelaide in the 10th Battalion writing back to his mother via the postcards, very sad. He was on one of the first wave ashore and 2 days later I’m reading letters there from his Commanding Officer, he was killed. It was very sad to read the letters and to re-connect with what was happening here back in Adelaide at that time.
Leigh: Is it a special feeling to be a custodian of history?
Phil: Yes, it’s a big responsibility. It’s ah you feel like you’re a gate keeper into nostalgia, and its wonderful when you have children come in. I had a young child in here the other day wanted to know about Billy Goats, Billy Goat Carts, and wanted to know where it came from. So I could show him the photographs. I often have students coming in, their teachers have asked them to research the Hills Hoist clothes line, so we go to the photos and we show them the Hills Hoist.
Leigh: Well I have to tell you Phil I won’t be bringing my 4 little ones in here, it terrifies me just walking around! You have an extraordinary collection, and things that I have never seen before, like the antique supermarket. Where do you find those? Original cakes of soap and original wrappers?
Phil: A lot of that came from Auction; it’s what we call new old stock, shops that have closed down in the 50’s and early 60’s.
Leigh: But I can’t believe people would keep those things?
Phil: They do, they do, in old sheds. A lot of that came out of a shop, an old grocer’s shop, that had closed down in the 1950’s, and the family had kept it in a shed. So we have packets of Corn Flakes and Weetbixs right back into the 50’s. And the packaging collectors they love to get their hands on the old packets & tins, (L: just amazing) and old calenders, there’s an Apothecary display there, from an old Chemist shop on the port road, so we’ve got all the bottles and the chemist jars, it’s just quite an incredible collection.
Leigh: So can you name for me just the one thing that’s really surprised you?
Phil: A ventriloquist dummy. A magnificent dummy that was brought to me ah last year, this chap who was in his 70’s was a performer here in Adelaide on radio and early television, and he brought his dummy in and said “Phil, what do you think of this?!” I thought – I’ve got to have it. So he’s sitting out there on the counter, magnificent and the history that’s involved with this dummy err with early Adelaide performers.
But like all passionate collectors, Phil always has one eye open for the next “HAVE TO HAVE”...
Leigh: Is there any one hole where you go we don’t have that and I’d really love that?
Phil: Ahhh… yes. There’s probably what I would like to get my hands on more of the early South Australian historical items. We do have a large collection of that now but I would like more and I love the photographs. The cameos of history, you know they’re frozen in time, to look at King William Street when we had the tram system running through, not like it is today, the old tram system and the steamers pulling in at Port Adelaide and the two winged aeroplanes landing at Parafield Gardens and the early John Martin’s Christmas Pageant.
Leigh: Phil, I have to ask you, is your wife also a collector?
Phil: As mad as I am.
Leigh: Good. (laughing)
Phil: Just as passionate.