The New Zealand press had a field day last week after a group of university students were caught red-handed attempting to be part of a dubious local tradition – the ceremonial stealing of garden ornaments.
The garden ornaments in question are garden gnomes, and reports said that apparently students at the University of Otago in Dunedin are required to go and “liberate” a gnome from someone’s front garden and “look after it” for one year to “protect” it from a rival university.
Three of the students were apprehended by police trying to snaffle the garden ornaments in the town of Oamaru. A member of the public witnessed the theft and the students’ vehicle was stopped – it was found to contain seven garden gnomes.
Speaking to the New Zealand Herald, Sergeant Wayne Brew said: “There is a tradition down there that they go and take these gnomes whenever they go away,” adding that the students now “probably understand the tradition of the New Zealand Police to actually arrest thieves, a long-standing tradition as well.”
He went on to say that gnomes and other garden ornaments were regularly reported missing, “and it would be amazing to see how many garden ornaments” turned up in the student quarter. Sgt Brew noted that garden ornaments “were quite sentimental pieces to those who own them.”