The gavel is coming down for the final time on a Ballarat institution this weekend.
The 1,360 lots at Kittelty's Auction Rooms in Sebastopol this Sunday are the last.
They will form the 927th auction since the business first opened its doors to vendors on January 26, 1987. An astonishing 20,000 registered buyers - roughly the population of Bacchus Marsh - have snapped up a rich and varied collection of items since.
From valuable artworks and finely crafted ceramics to boats and cars, all have gone under the hammer here.
For business owner Dean Kittelty, the decision to shut the doors is a very personal one. His father Geoffrey, the founder of the business, died in September. With his wife now also battling ill health, Mr Kittelty has decided to call time on life at the rostrum. With 60 to 80-hour weeks regular occurrences in the run up to auctions, the time was right to take a step back, he told The Courier.
Speaking in the vast warehouse where so many antiques and collectables have found new homes, he said: "As much as we love our business, it does not come close to the happiness of family."
He has spent decades at the heart of the business, which moved from previous bases on Main Street and Sunnyside Mill to its current home on Victoria Street in 2010.
He knows Sunday will be an emotional day for himself, his wife and their three children and wider family, including his 81 year-old father-in-law.
He says a collection of Remued ceramics is one of his personal favourites from the lots on his last day in the auctioneer's chair. Over the years, he has developed a deep appreciation for many of the items he has sold.
"I have a true love of antiques. When I put my hands on an Australian pottery vase, it has an impact on me," he said.
"When I put my hands on a Victorian cedar chest-of-drawers, it has an impact on me. We are merely custodians of these pieces of furniture and pottery."
Yet despite his many years wielding the gavel, he still does not have a precise sense of which lots will fly on auction day.
"Of all the remarkable results we have had, not one has been expected," he said. He gave the example of an unsigned, framed oil painting that a "semi regular" local vendor brought in.
While there was an initial interest in the painting as soon as the first viewing opened,
If we had got $1,000, we would have been rapt," said Mr Kittelty. However, the bids kept going up and it fetched $13,000.
"That was the most extraordinary experience we had. We are not experts in art, nor do we claim to be but the drama around that painting was truly remarkable."
"There were scallops and prawns in the fish and chip order for staff that night."
There have been unconfirmed rumours since that the painting went for £100,000 in the UK, but for Mr Kittelty that is all grist to the mill.
"It wouldn't bother me at all, it would make me happy. The person who bought it put their money up - it's all theirs."
He told The Courier that he has raised the bar for the lots this Sunday. These are likely to be the last transactions beneath the sloping roof of this tumble-down hangar before its demolition. The ordered aisles of a newly renovated Coles supermarket are likely to take the place of the bohemian clutter of the auction room.
Mr Kittelty said he has put a high bar on the lots accepted for the day. "We're going out with a bit of a flourish," he said, with hopes for up to 450 buyers to stop by for the valedictory lots. A framed photo of his father will rest on an easel facing the lines of antiques and collectables, to overseeing the proceedings for the day.
It's a poignant symbol of the Kittelty family story, with the emotion of his father's passing still very raw.
"Since he's gone, we have placed [the photo] there," said Mr Kittelty, pointing at the easel. "A lot of people talk about him." His father's own gavel - a beautiful, intricate ivory gift from the Portland Wool Brokers at the dawn of his career in 1961 - will come out for ceremonial purposes on Sunday.
Dean Kittelty also remembers his first, unexpected, experience as an auctioneer.
"In 1993, my father called me over to the auctioneer's chair during an auction, got out and told me to take over."
In front of over 300 people, his father then walked out of the building.
"My memory is of him walking up the street as one of our staff members was holding up a ruby pickle jar. And so I had no choice other than to learn. That was my father's style: you learned on the job and you learned very quickly."
He does not remember what happened to the ruby pickle jar - just that he was "extraordinarily anxious". "But once I got 10 lots in, I found my feet," he said. "I have auctioneered at every single auction since that day."
We have had a very good run and we have loved our business. We have loved the customers, we have loved the auctioneering. I am going to miss it terribly.- Dean Kittelty
Since then, he has refined his craft and distils it down to a few simple rules.
"You need to be consistent beyond everything else," he said. "You need to not only be fair, you need to be seen to be fair."
"Never ever be cheeky or smart, or flippant when you are auctioneering, as it's very easy to offend someone.
"And be fast, you must be fast. We sell one lot every 23 seconds for seven hours, non-stop."
Sunday will be the last time he is in the auctioneer's chair for a while. Along with his co-auctioneer Paul Hawker, there are thousands of lots to get through at a cracking pace, with little or no time to spare.
After that intense work-out Mr Kittelty's own gavel - fashioned from huon pine and gifted to him by a customer - will be rested for a while but one day may be used again.
He has not ruled out auctioneering in the future, but is adamant that it won't be with such an all consuming business.
"My auctioneering career may continue but it will not be anything like this. The idea of us having rooms is something that after 33 years of working on the front line, it's time for me to move on."
"We have had a very good run and we have loved our business. We have loved the customers, we have loved the auctioneering, it's been wonderful."
"I am going to miss it terribly," he said. "More than half my closest friends in life come from this business."
For now, however, the Kittelty family will come first. When the gavel comes down on lot 1360 on Sunday, they will be able to enjoy each others' company while they can. "Our children can't wait," said Mr Kittelty. "You just don't get that time back."
- Final auctions run from 10.30am to 5pm this Sunday (November 24) at 5/7 Victoria St.
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