Gnome painting showcases Rotary cooperation

By Greg Hooper, Rotary Club of Murrumbidgee Canberra, ACT

The Rotary Club of Murrumbidgee Canberra has been operating the Floriade Gnome Painting Project for nearly 20 years. It has been a major public relations venture for Rotary as well as a significant fundraiser. Since its inception, the project has grown from painting a few hundred gnomes during the weekends of Floriade to current sales of more than 5,000 gnomes and an on-site Rotary presence at Gnome Knoll for 20 days throughout the four weeks of Floriade. An estimated 300,000 people visit the gnomes display, where they see and speak with Rotarians.

The annual event requires many months of planning and organisation. A new gnome design is chosen each year, a process that commences in March. Designs for terracotta gnomes are then submitted to a manufacturer in China, with samples delivered back to Australia soon after for approval. Orders are placed in May and after several weeks travelling by ship, two shipping container loads finally arrive in July. It is in these areas of import, transport and storage that corporate partners with the necessary expertise and contacts play an essential role.

Murrumbidgee Canberra members arrange pre-Floriade sales and delivery to pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, clubs, retirement villages, and businesses so that keen painters can apply their artistic talents well before Floriade. Early sales encourage community interest and ensures that Gnome Knoll takes on a colourful display at the commencement of Floriade.

The club sees the project as much more than a fundraising effort. It is an opportunity to showcase Rotary and for Rotarians to engage with the public through a fun activity for children and families. Members also get great satisfaction from the positive feedback they receive from children and families. Many return year after year to purchase and paint the new design and expand their collection of treasured family gnomes.

Gnome painting is now a popular and sought-out activity at Floriade. Age is no barrier to painting, with participants ranging from two to 96 years of age.

The project also provides an opportunity to meet and work alongside other Rotarians, Rotaract members, Interact members and exchange students. More than 1,500 hours are spent at Gnome Knoll during Floriade. As this is more than Murrumbidgee Canberra members can provide, over the past 15 years the club has sought the help of other Rotary clubs as well as Rotaract and Interact clubs, schools, and corporate participants. In 2023, seven Rotary clubs, two Rotaract clubs and the Canberra High School Interact Club provided volunteers to fill the roster. The opportunity was also taken to involve Youth Exchange students, who were able to interact with the public and meet other students and Rotarians.
Murrumbidgee Canberra considers the project to be somewhat of a model (though small in scale) for how Rotary clubs can work together on projects to bring about great outcomes for clubs and the community. The engagement of the corporate sector, many of which place considerable emphasis on community service by their employees, has also been essential in the success of the project and building relationships with Rotary.

The profits from Floriade gnome sales are distributed based on the number of hours each club devotes to the project. At the end of Floriade, Murrumbidgee Canberra hosts a function to celebrate the success of the project, thank participating clubs and corporate participants, and to present cheques. Murrumbidgee Canberra distributes some of its profits to services for the homeless in Canberra, towards the funding of research into childhood cancer, and other community activities within the Canberra region. Other Rotary clubs similarly fund their specific Rotary projects.

(Photo: Events ACT)