I was ill the day we were to go look at a house to rent. I was twenty-one and had a stomach flu from hell. I leaned on the fence and saw that there was a large concrete gnome at the door. He had a wide grin on his face. These were the days when you agreed to rent a house without first looking inside. “This looks great,” I croaked, and signed the requisite lease before stumbling back to bed. I had always been a sucker for a gnome. It turned out to be a wonderful house, and we stayed until it was knocked down to make way for units. The grinning gnome left with us.
I created artworks using gnomes and pixies as my inspiration at this address. If I could have transmuted into one, I would have! In my mind they represented the perfect combination of whimsy, irreverence and magic. I secretly judged people on whether they had any fairy folk in their gardens. If I saw only military rows of white roses, I tended to make a quick exit!
You can imagine my delight when I discovered that Australia has its own annual gnome convention in the Blue Mountains! As you step into the park, you are immediately taken to another world. It is a gentle place, with lush greenery and gnomes aplenty. This is where they converge, hatching mischievous plans. Thousands are on display, and you can even bring your own. There are gnomes camping by a billabong, and a scene depicting a poor gnome in a courtroom with gnome lawyers and a High Court judge.
My heart soared at the beauty and I waved as a train brimming with gnomes made its way past. There was a gnome first-aid station where you could get your cracked and fading friend seen to, as well as men and women who had been fairy-led, and were dressed as gnomes.
As I sat and watched ukulele players, singers and poets perform, my heart soared. The artist Richard Cutler, gifted me an abstract drawing of my daughter and I, and a felt artist promised that she would teach me the art form. Our senses were delighted as we passed candle makers and pottery displays. “This is living,” I smiled to my daughter. No beige allowed here; just colour. The detritus of ordinary life was forgotten as we danced and chatted to fringe-dwellers with wild hair and a spark in their eye. It’s a twinkle that sadly seems missing from many people outside the convention. What causes it? Too much time being an adult, perhaps? What happened to whimsy? To climbing trees and dancing; to clapping and singing along to music? What happened to wonder and curiosity and talking to strangers?
My heart ached at the thought of leaving, and I seriously contemplated leaving all my worldly goods and staying at the foot of the mountains. There was a little piece of adult left within my brain, and so I determined that the next best thing would be to bring some of the fairy light back home with me. I am still buoyed by my trip to the gnome convention. It is a place where art and performers mingle with the true believers. I may not be able to be a real gnome, but I can certainly behave as though I am. It requires bravado, mischief and some cheek, but I believe I have enough fairy dust left to pull it off.