A small part of this paper's history goes up for sale on Sunday. Those with a sticky beak will be interested. The Collection of Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax AC OBE comes under the hammer at Bonhams in Woollharra in Sydney. Sir Warwick, the great grandson of the founder of the The Sydney Morning Herald, died in 1987. His obituary in the The Canberra Times (which the Fairfax company published) said he was "associated with the Fairfax group's growth as one of the country's big three media conglomerates." And all that's very interesting as a slice of the history of this paper. But the less noble motive for taking a look is to peek into another world. It's always interesting to snoop around someone else's home. House auctions in Canberra are packed. Couples whisper to each other about some bit of bad taste on the wall. There are sniggers - "Did they really live with that?" the shocked neighbours ask, their noses in the air. Lest you think I'm being snobbish about snobs, I add that I do it myself. If there's a house auction in Yarralumla, I'm there. Apart from anything, they sometimes have free sausage sizzles in the back garden. If a bargain won't attract a bidder, then a sausage is - forgive the mixed metaphor - the icing on the cake. The auctioneers are bigging the Fairfax sale up: "It is with great privilege that Bonhams announces the forthcoming contents sale of Fairwater, the highly distinguished home of Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax AC OBE. One of the most significant private collections ever to be offered at public auction in Australia." "Amassed by the Fairfax family over the last century, the sale will also include pieces from their Harrington Park colonial homestead and the family's New York apartment, known as the Gilded Birdcage. Occupying the 41st and 42nd floors of the Pierre Hotel in New York, the apartment once belonged to John P Getty and was home for a time to Elizabeth Taylor. The apartment was a considered a 'Chateau in the Sky'." So what do we get to see on the other side of the curtain as we look in from the street? They had money - boy, did they have money - but did they have taste? It depends on your definition of taste, of course. If you think that French heart-shaped ashtrays with gilded edges are tasteful, then the auction is - forgive the mixed metaphor again - your cup of tea. And if you think they would look good on your coffee table, Bonhams reckons they'll go for $100 to $200. Or might you like a porcelain "German nodding head pagoda figure" ($300 to $500)? You get a sense of the old-money Australian aristocratic life-style. The mansion in the prime spot on Sydney Harbour was packed with ornaments of crystal and porcelain. The kind of nicky-nacky-noos no European aristo would be without. A "John Jaques croquet set, Australian dart board and Sydney Imperial Games table (Used at the grounds of Fairwater and Harrington Park, croquet set complete with guide)" could be yours for $160 to $270 (assuming, you don't come against a true croquet fanatic in the bidding). Do you need a meter high ("from crown to acorn drop") crystal chandelier for your apartment on Northbourne Avenue? If so, there's one for sale (estimate: $440 to $650). It is described as a French Empire Style Gilt Bronze and Crystal "of tent and bag design with six scrolling branches and anthemion crown". By the way, it was featured in Vogue Australia. It's easy to sneer - that's what peeking into other people's houses is all about. But there are beautiful paintings, too. In among the ornate European expensive schlock, there are pictures by Australian masters, Arthur Boyd and Ray Crooke, in particular. And there may be bargains. Where else could you pick up a "rare and beautiful rococo Venetian harpsichord" for $2,000? And do you need a new dinner set "comprising 25 dinner, 12 entree, 26 side and 28 bread plates, 10 soup bowls and saucers, 17 teacups and saucers, 10 demitasse cups and saucers, along with a pair of serving platters, a pair of serving bowls and one tureen and cover"? It could be yours for $1,000, depending on the competition. This reporter will be bidding. I shouldn't say for what - but I do need a pair of Chinese stone ornamental lions for the flat.