Gnomes on the range

FLEUR BAINGER
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014
Gnomes
FLEUR BAINGER

GARDEN VARIETY: Gnomesville, Western Australia.

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About 2½ hours' drive from Perth is a strange sight: Thousands and thousands of gnomes clustered in a forest, beside a quiet country road.

It sounds like a misguided fairy tale and, indeed, I thought it might be, before curiosity got the better of me and I set off to discover the truth.

My destination was the Ferguson Valley, a little known Eden of rolling hills combed by vineyards and enlivened by restaurants, galleries and micro-breweries that seems more like a slice of England than Western Australia. I noted that Gnomesville - yes, it's really called that - was en route. There was no question: I had to stop by to confirm the miniature community wasn't just a local legend.

I pull up and, at first glimpse, it seems a sad little representation of grubby statues peeking from tufts of grass edging the bitumen. But stepping into the scrub, I almost have to rub my eyes and pinch my skin. What greets me is a bewitching sight: Gnomes of all sizes, colours, nationalities and occupations.

Gnomes with names, gnomes in planes; gnomes on ladders and in trees, gnomes standing, lying and on their knees. There's a football team, a school, a pink-hatted gnome club and even asylum-seeker gnomes fenced in the Gnomesville Detention Centre. Puns abound with every turn in the earthy path ("world gnomination"; "Gnoman empire"), as well as entertaining stories on pieces of iron and chipboard. Buddhas, frogs and polka-dotted mushroom figurines have joined for good measure.

The river of colourful, bearded beings seems to course through the forest in every direction, leading me further from my car as I try to find where the flow slows to a trickle. It's estimated there are more than 5000 of the shin-high critters, with newcomers silently arriving and settling in as if they've always been there. The threat of bad fortune keeps anyone from collecting a souvenir. The scene is as odd as it is enchanting.

Gnome-one knows how the first diminutive creature got to this country outpost - or at least that's the tale local folk are keeping up. It happened around the time a bunch of farmers were protesting a new road being built, though the ringleading resident denies ever depositing a stout, spade-toting gentleman to eyeball the offending spot.

The road went ahead with a slight concession - it became a roundabout rather than a T-junction - and the gnomes subsequently perched on the new infrastructure were regarded as a silent protest. Slowly, the population grew. And though it's been moved to the roadside bush, it hasn't stopped.

Those involved in the garden gnome liberation movement - where "imprisoned" stone folk are returned to the forest - will be heartened to know more were delivered to Gnomesville late last year, when a popular radio host in Perth decided to rally his listeners to bring in their gnomes so he could set them free. Three hundred were donated.

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With gnomes also arriving from around the world - most are marked with the names and origins of their "owners" - it's expected this whimsical rural village will continue to flourish.

For me, what was meant to be a five-minute pit stop turned into an hour or more of incredulity and laughter. And, yet, when I ask West Australians if they've ever been to Gnomesville, or even heard of it, I'm generally met with wary looks that suggest they're reassessing my sanity. It seems the legend - and with it, WA's quirkiest attraction - will live on.

- Sunday Star Times

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