We were at Gnomesville the other day. Since the 1990s people have been leaving gnomes in the bush by the side of a round-about in a sparsely-populated corner of the Ferguson Valley. There’s thousands of gnomes spread around the trees and along the tracks. A few of the gnomes are broken but not many; I think the broken ones must be removed. One of the main stretches follows a seasonal creek-bed and the flat clear surface is filled with shiny new gnomes with dates from recent weeks written in texta. Perhaps, like me at first, they didn’t notice it was a creek. A good proportion of gnomes on higher ground are spattered with mud, survivors of at least one year of winter’s rains. Others were probably washed away.
There’s a lot of gnome families left by groups – families making a pilgrimage stop on their holiday, a graduating class from a local primary school, sporting teams, the Alcoa Retirees Club. But what struck me the most was the commemorative gnomes for the dead, gnomes marked with people’s names, their birth and death years, water-damaged photos in plastic. They are grave markers that are far too portable and breakable.
Our children painted white plaster gnomes we bought them from Kmart. They loved painting them and loved the idea of visiting Gnomesville. But then hesistancy set in for our six-year-old – did he really want to leave his precious gnomes here? What would happen to his gnomes? They each had two gnomes and decided, in the end, to hedge their bets by leaving one and keeping one. We noticed a lot of Kmart gnomes at Gnomesville, including some washed white again by the rain.
The gnomes are a sea of people and moments jostling to be remembered. Always in the guise of the light-hearted but some times in order to mark solemnity. A village of memory which seems to offer permanency only for the waters to come through each year and wash away another crop of the ill-prepared and unlucky. If you can come back, will you find your gnome? Not necessarily. You might be better off not returning and imagining it sitting there always, undisturbed among the trees.