Ernest Ridding (photo: Sydney Morning Herald)

A recent caller to ABC radio station 702 recalled Ernest Ridding, the Glebe resident who recycled fridges and donated an estimated 3,000 fridges to people in need.

This reminded me that I had met Ernest Ridding some time ago.  I was looking for a hinge for an old ice chest, and the man in the hardware shop suggested that I ask Ernest, who was living and working in a house on the corner of Catherine and Westmoreland Street.  The sign at the front of his repair workshop read: “Ernie’s charity recycling. If you want to talk money, piss off.”

He was barefooted, had long white hair and a beard and was wearing an immaculately clean shirt and shorts.  Ernest invited me into his workshop, where he had a large collection of spare parts for fridges, stored in neat racks and clearly labelled “right hand hinges” etc.  Although they looked as though they came from old fridges, they were far too modern for my needs.  Ernest left me to look around the workshop, as he had “an appointment with a chip-heater shower”.

I also remembered that Ernest had stood as an Independent candidate in a State election.  As I have great difficulty throwing things away, I had kept his Election Policy.  This had appeared in my mailbox years ago.  I don’t know why my mailbox was chosen, or how many copies were distributed.

Luckily I was able to find the document, which I think was written in 1988.  It consists of 18 pages, closely typed using a manual typewriter and Gestetner type stencils.  It is printed double-sided on varying sized sheets of recycled paper.  When I think back to my struggles with this pre-computer and pre-photocopier technology, I can only admire his hard work.

The document outlines Ernest’s policies for “Ridding the State of …” a list of nine problems: poverty, medical madness, mental institutions, backward pupils, unemployed, useless wastes, effluent, Police verbal and farmers’ problems.

I had intended to retype some of these policies for the Bulletin. However when I read them I realised that although many of us may broadly agree with some of his policies, they are peppered with comments that we would now consider “politically incorrect”.  I have therefore extracted details of Ernest Ridding’s life story from this document.  There were a few spelling mistakes, which I have corrected, remembering how hard it was to make corrections with “nail varnish” on the old stencils.

My Mother gave me a body, possibly seeded by someone who never had the guts to stay around, so when I arrived, the names began, a son a boy, possibly a bastard.  Born 22/8/ 27 at Lubeck, near Horsham in Victoria.

I do not know anything about my parents, my knowledge today tells me they were in no condition to be breeding.

I was dumped on the State of Victoria at 6 months, and all my schooling was done at the Salvation Army Boys Home at Box Hill.

About 1955 I went to Balranald to try Market Gardening, and within 2 years was set up by lying Cops and Doctors and committed to the Mental Hospital at Kenmore (hence my title G.K.N.  Graduate of Kenmore Nuthouse). …. I was there 20 months and was released about October 1957. … (Ernest was diagnosed as a “paraphrenic”, which resembles paranoia.)

In 1967 I left a job of 7 years with the P.M.G. and joined the Helping Hand Mission at Crows Nest.

In 1972 I started my own Mission (Ernie’s Independent Mission).It lasted 2 years until helpers got too greedy.  I started with a Mini Minor car and in 2 years had built up to a Morris J2 van, a Fargo van and a 2 ton Daihatsu truck.  All earnt by recycling bottles, cans, rags, scrap metals, even washing off postage stamps and selling in bundles of 100s, and collecting Lan Choo tea coupons.

Those that donated their waste, were given anything else I was given. Even a concrete mixer, I told the recipient I would swap it for his daughter. But I never got my end of the bargain. I even got the remains of several farms after auction, and these were used to restore storm damaged properties at Londonderry.  All this was made possible from recycled wastes.  But then greed gets the better of most people, so I gave all the trucks away to needy people.

I now spend most of my time repairing refrigerators and giving them away to anybody in need.  Everybody should have a fridge.

If someone brings me a fridge I usually swap it for a good one.

I personally do not believe in having possessions.  I work with anything others consider unrepairable, therefore I walk away from anything I build up.  This makes a lot of sense.

Past experience such as the Nuthouse has taught me to trust nobody.

The building is condemned but free of rent, which suits me.  I do not waste money repairing broken windows as someone will no doubt break them again.

Glebe lost one of its “identities” when Ernest Ridding died in 2001, aged 74.  His old home, which has been sold recently, has a redevelopment notice on the fence.

Ernest Ridding’s house as it was in 2003 (Glebe Society Bulletin)

There is a plaque in the garden of the St John’s Community Centre commemorating Ernest Ridding. The inscription reads:

In memory
Ernest Francis Ridding GKN LLM
“Ernie the Fridge Man”

“In giving, he inspires us to give”
Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir A.C. CVD
Governor of New South Wales
18 September 2007

(The letters “GKN LLM” at the end of his name were a reference to his time at the Kenmore Psychiatric Hospital in Goulburn and stood for “Graduate of Kenmore Nuthouse, Legally and Lawfully Mad”.)