The great garden gnome hunt
The great garden gnome hunt


The great garden gnome hunt

/ June 1, 2015

While there aren’t many garden gnomes around Macquarie today, there was a day back in 1970 when they took over the campus, following what became widely known as the Great Garden Gnome Hunt.

According to Dr Brian Spencer (BA (Hons) 1972, DUniv (Honoris Causa) 2004), former Registrar and Vice-Principal of Macquarie University, events unfolded on the eve of the second Conception Day celebration.

“The first Conception Day had been a wet and a fairly unexciting affair, with the main event being a flour fight between groups of students on the lawn,” he says. Organisers were determined to do something more memorable for the second year’s festivities.

“Top secret maps identifying the location of all known local garden gnomes were prepared and handed out to students at midnight on Conception Eve. Their goal was to borrow the gnomes, make a note of where they lived, and later deliver ransom notes. All funds raised would go to charity,” Spencer says. Well, that was the plan, anyway.

As recorded by Activities Officer Phil Gibbs, after an evening of drinking and other activities of questionable legality, the safari suit-clad and pith-helmeted students took to their task with enthusiasm at midnight.

“By 3am, however, the organisers started to become concerned that in their exuberance the gnome hunters had exceeded their brief and collected every piece of garden ornamentation and furniture they could find,” Spencer reminisces.

“There were statues, cement cherubs, stone lions, tyre swans, storks, bird baths, frogs and a dazzling array of porcelain figures. And of course there were gnomes: crouching gnomes, standing gnomes, pouting gnomes, fishing gnomes and every other kind of gnome imaginable.”

Together, they formed an impressive but silent guard of honour on the University lawn as organisers, fretting over the by now tired and emotional gnome hunters’ sparse records, started to ponder the legal implications of the night’s work.

They were right to worry. Distressed owners had called local police who threatened to lay charges against the gnome-nappers. “Feelings were running high,” says Spencer, “but Vice-Chancellor Alex Mitchell intervened and saved the day, dispatching university attendants to round up the stone creatures, which were taken to Ryde and Eastwood police stations for concerned owners to reclaim them.

“As the truck drove off to take them to jail, the stony, forlorn faces of the gnomes peered out from the back of the truck, serenaded by the students who sang ‘Let my people go’,” he laughs.

The event attracted a lot of attention in the media, with outrage over the students’ high jinks on talkback radio and tongue-in-cheek opinion pieces concerned over the plight of the homeless gnomes.

“Other Conception Day hunts occurred in later years, and of course there have since been countless gnome hunts,” Spencer says. “But we like to think ours was the original – and the best.”

Relive other Macquarie moments.

Comments (7)

  1. Leo Grey (BA(Hons) '72)

    Anyone who was there, as I was as a young chemistry student, will remember this. Poor Phil – we thought he was going to be arrested!

  2. Dennis Bateman

    I was also working in the Registrar’s Office at the time. The Ryde and Eastwood police stations had an added problem. Many owners chose not to reclaim their stolen garden kitsch. The theft of their sculpture was a god-sent opportunity to have a “clean out.” Unfortunately this resulted in the police stations being overrun with unclaimed gnomes. I am not sure of the eventual fate of the “unclaimed.” Perhaps Brian or some of our contemporaries may have some news of their fate.

  3. Greg Smith

    1970 to 1973. We had a bloke catch us taking his wifes garden pink porcelain flamingo. Nice bloke. Actually helped us load it in the dac dac.

  4. Bill Chilvers

    Hi Phil Gibbs,
    I was a student from 1969 to 1972. I remember the gnome hunt well – lots of fun. I was a member of a band called ‘Llama’ at that time which included other Macquarie students. We played a few times at the Union. One of the band went on to become a pop star in the early eighties and another became the Director of Music Studies at the Los Angeles campus of the Berkeley College of Music.

    We’ve all done pretty well in our lives with fond memories of our time studying at Macquarie.

  5. John Foster

    Are there any photos in the archive from the first Conception Day which would have been in 1968? Much of it was organized by the Lachlan Macquarie Hunt Club which in itself was lucky to escape expulsion after the first Hunt Club Ball, the first social event at Macquarie late in ’67. The food fight was amazing!

  6. Mr Laurie Bennett

    An amazing time at a truly unique university, wonderful time, friends and memories.
    The food fight and the party were incredible for a naive student.

    The best of times fond memories.


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