12 October 2020

Bigga may not be big but Dennis Harrison's bottle opener collection is

| Hannah Sparks
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Dennis Harrison with his bottle opener collection.

Dennis Harrison of Bigga, NSW, is the proud owner of Australia’s largest bottle opener collection. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

There’s a running joke among locals that you won’t find a bigger town than Bigga despite its population’s of just 245. And there is one thing in which this bush community, two hours from Canberra, punches above its weight.

Across the road from the Federal Hotel, in a refurbished tin shed, is Australia’s largest bottle opener collection.

Dennis Harrison is the proud owner of all 2893 – and counting – bottle openers he has collected on trips across Australia and been gifted by friends, family and generous strangers.

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This might not be everyone’s idea of a hobby, but to the 71-year-old retired policeman, it’s a way to hold onto treasured keepsakes.

“Each one has a story to tell, either from the place I found it or from the person who gave it to me,” says Dennis.

He started his collection at age 18 when a stranger handed him a Johnnie Walker bottle opener to remember his first drink by. At home that night, Dennis was eager to show his father his new possession, but to his surprise his dad replied with, “I can do better than that.”

Sign with tally displaying '2893'.

Dennis Harrison has collected 2893 bottle openers and counting. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

Out came a vintage brass bottle opener in the shape of a small boy, which Dennis’s father had carried on the Kokoda Track.

Those two bottle openers remain in the collection and are Dennis’s favourites.

When Dennis and his wife moved to Bigga in 2000, the collection stood at 170. In 2007, it grew substantially as Dennis and his wife began touring Australia in their caravan, collecting bottle openers from op shops, places they visited and people they met along the way.

By the time the collection reached 250, Dennis’s wife said it was time for the bottle openers to have a home that wasn’t theirs. That’s when Dennis moved the collection to his outside shed, affectionately known as his man cave.

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It’s in this shed where Dennis can quietly reflect on all the memories his bottle openers hold.

In 2018, his collection of bottle openers was recognised by The Australian Book of Records, and his current collection will appear in this year’s edition.

Dennis’s next goal is to reach 3000 although he doubts he’ll stop there.

“I’ll probably come home with 3002,” he says.

Unbeknown to his wife, Dennis has been thinking of how to expand the shed to fit his ever-growing collection. Of course, a bottle opener wouldn’t be complete without a bottle, and Dennis has also been collecting vintage bottles during the years, as well as old oil cans, lighters and signs – “Things that catch my eye,” he says.

Among the collection are what Dennis believes are rare items, including a XXXX sign used to advertise the beer on Queensland taxis before being banned.

“My nephew was a taxi driver and he gave it to me when they were banned,” says Dennis. “He thinks it might be the only one left.”

Everyone is welcome at Dennis’s shed, whether they are passing through to Grabine Lakeside park or want to make a special trip out to see the collection and pop into the original 1920s general store around the corner.

“I love showing people around,” says Dennis.

Ask for Dennis at the Federal Hotel or the Olympia Cafe in Bigga and you’ll be pointed in his direction.

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