Sunday, January 25, 2009

Australian gnome at Gamone

In my recent article entitled Wanderlust [display], I pointed out that the first recorded case of a traveling gnome prank occurred in Sydney in 1986. I happened to be working at the Curtin University in Perth at that date, waiting for the America's Cup season to start, and I remember hearing of that strange gnome affair on the other side of the continent. Last night, I received an email from a woman who runs a blog about gnomes, entitled Gnutty for Gnomes [display]. She asked me the origin of the anecdote about the gnome Bilbo. Well, it's mentioned explicitly in a Wikipedia page on gnome pranks [display].

In July 1986, my son François had joined me in Fremantle. At the Bastille Day ball in Perth, he met up with a Franco-Australian girl name Francine, and they became instant friends. The following year, I returned to Paris. For my birthday in 1987, Francine and François sent me a tiny Australian gnome named Rupert. Seven years later, the gnome moved down here to Gamone with me, where he spends a lot of time climbing around on rocks and searching for mushrooms.

Rupert is so small that, whenever he's out on the lawn, Sophia has to be careful not to walk on him.

In fact, it's reassuring to know that Sophia is there to protect him if ever Rupert were to be attacked by the many elves and leprechauns that inhabit the mysterious Vercors mountains. Meanwhile, I often wonder if Rupert might suddenly decide to fly off, one of these days, on a tourist trip to his native Antipodes.


  1. Thanks for posting this -- good story!

    I must point out to readers that Wikipedia is often not totally accurate (anyone can update it!) and its "facts" should always be verified before claiming them to be truth.

    My research has led me to believe there is an earlier occurrence of this prank. I will edit the Wikipedia article if I find this to be true, and also post about it on my blog.

    Thanks again for the post!

  2. The initial reason why I've always imagined that this prank originated in Australia in 1986 was because the traveling gnome phenomenon had, in 1987, become part of the common Antipodean culture of my son François, his Australian friend Francine and me. And it would have been rather unusual for people living in Perth at that time to be influenced by an anecdote of this kind that had occurred elsewhere on the planet. But the main reason why the prank appears to me as Australian is that it corresponds closely to the style, habits and sense of humor of young Australians at that time, for whom an excursion of a few months to the Old World was a standard event, often between the end of their university studies and the start of their professional existence. I can imagine the prank being dreamed up among students in a pub environment. Often, the spirit of such an Old World excursion consisted of marking up "been there, done that" points, without any profound attempts at delving into the serious realities of the places being visited. So, I can easily imagine a few lighthearted Aussie teenagers deciding to carry out such a stunt, mainly to amuse their mates back home Down Under. On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine a British youth deciding to steal a gnome in a provincial garden and take it on a trip through the Continent.

    Today, when versions of the prank are presented, it's a simple matter to use Photoshop to paste an image of the gnome onto any kind of background photo (as in the Amélie film). In 1986, on the other hand, the prankster had to actually take a photo of the traveling gnome in each foreign setting.

    In any case, I'll be looking forward to hearing the results of your research into the origins of this phenomenon.