Glenbrook's Carolyn Cook will face a very different, and quieter, Australia Day this year.
The former teacher will talk to her 95-year-old mother in a nursing home and also hopes to catch up with children and grandchildren. Previous years have been spent tending to thousands of colourful gnomes and the crowds at Glenbrook Park with her husband David.
For almost two decades David Cook was known as the "gnome master or gnome man". He died in October last year from bowel cancer age 72.
The former Rotary governor created the 'Gnome Convention', which has run at Glenbrook Park on Australia Day since 2004.
There are hundreds of gnomes stored at their home now, where the sign out the front says 'Gnomesbrook'. Mr Cook was part of a Rotary ute and trailer delegation to collect 1500 gnomes from a deceased estate at Cootamundra. That "great gnome rescue" made headlines all around the world!
"He was in a magazine in England, one in LA and even on a radio station in Finland," his widow said. "People have stopped us in the streets and said 'you're the gnome man, the gnome master'."
It all started with a kooky idea - the former Canberra couple had seen a few gnomes at Floriade and thought a big event with little folk could be created in the Mountains.
"The [Lower Blue Mountains Rotary] committee at the time was looking for ideas that were different, to bring people back to a family friendly event.
"When David said 'Why don't we have a gnome festival?' there were a couple of staid Rotarians who looked rather aghast at the idea. We literally had to go out and buy gnomes, we were not gnome people."
In the weeks leading up to each Australia Day, their home was always full with about 200 or 300 gnomes that they would paint in white for children to decorate later.
"He'd shave on Christmas Day, and then stopped shaving until after Australia Day, to grow his gnome-like white beard," she said.
But with only a small band of ageing workers still willing to put in the mammoth hours, Rotary stalwarts made the tough decision to let the extremely successful "gift to the community" event go.
"The event became more successful, more complex .. and put it together with the heat, the age of the senior members, it was too difficult ... COVID allowed us to switch more easily. Our Australia Day activities have changed and we are not going to go back," she said.
The Cook's 50 years of married love spanned a lifetime of service through Apex, Girl Guides, Cubs and Rotary. They even travelled to India as part of Rotary's polio vaccination program. Mrs Cook said her husband lived out the Rotary motto "service above self'.
"He was just a beautiful man," she said.
The club's board of directors are looking to make a major permanent display of the gnome collection which would also commemorate the rich Rotary history of Australia Day in Glenbrook. Already the mayor has indicated his support
"Rotary has contributed so much to the Lower Blue Mountains community," Mayor Mark Greenhill said. "What they have given to us all cannot be measured. "I regard this as an organisation that has contributed an enormous amount ... and will be happy to help facilitate any required steps."
Rotary spokesman Bob Aitken said his friend David "had a dream of building a giant gnome as a major exhibit in Glenbrook Park".
Mr Aitken said any memorial would be a way to "pay tribute to the many Rotarians and partners who have served on the project over the years, the gnome convention, and of course the memory of Rotarians like David Cook, and others, who have contributed so much".
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