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Hide and seek for rolling stones

By Alec Smart


Along Sydney’s Northern Beaches, youngsters are participating in an enterprising form of hide and seek involving decorated rocks – Secret Rocks. Sarah Downes, founder of Northern Beaches Secret Rocks (NBSR), told 2099 magazine why she established the fun activities group, which now numbers almost 5,000 members.


Cassie with a rock she painted. Photo: Linda Gee


You’re probably aware of ‘Spoonvilles’ springing up across suburbia during the Covid-19 lockdowns. In these micro-villages, kids have decorated spoons (usually wooden ones for stirring sauces) with faces and mini costumes. Planted in small patches of publicly-accessible ground, they create colourful clusters of cutlery characters.


Spoonvilles bring communities together and are a fun creative venture for bored kids unable to attend school or day-care due to coronavirus restrictions. They are particularly popular in Melbourne, which has endured the world’s longest lockdown at well over 200 days.

But on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, it’s not kitchen utensils that are utilised, but something as old as the Earth and in common supply: rocks!


Sarah Downes founded NBSR on Facebook in May 2017 after seeing something similar in Canada - before the coronavirus pandemic.

“Northern Beaches Secret Rocks was meant to be a way to share random kindness with the community and to build happiness within the Northern Beaches,” Sarah explained. “Basically, images are painted onto rocks. They can be anything from uplifting messages, to Yoda, to watermelon - any image that will bring a smile! Overall everyone loves a watermelon! We have painters of all ages, from 3 to 83, and there is no minimum level of skill.


Some examples of painted rocks. Photo: Linda Gee


Those who paint and hide the rocks are called ‘rockers’, and they do it in the spirit of goodwill, Sarah insisted.

“Every rock shows the care and consideration of the painter, who has done their best to make something that will bring happiness to another. Heartfelt sayings like ‘Peace’, ‘This Too Shall Pass’, ‘Love’, are always popular, as well as themed rocks, such as the Hairy Maclary series of characters painted by one of our rockers.

“We have lots of fish, cats, ice creams, turtles, you name it. Oh, and one cannot forget the Minions, whom everyone definitely loves. They are all special in their own way! We have a real depth of talent in the group.”


However, unlike spoon villages, the rocks prefer social distancing and don’t gather in hamlets. Like fairies in forests and pixies in parks, these painted pebbles and stunning stones are shy and elusive. Hidden among foliage and rockeries in their native habitat along the coastline, it requires stealth and persistence to find them.


“The rocks are sealed to protect them, then hidden randomly in the community for others to find,” Sarah declared. “On the back of the rock an identifier #NBSR is painted as a means to connect it to our Facebook group. Painters love it when someone posts a find of a rock they have made.”


Some rocks are the finder’s keepers, others returned to their hiding spots, or hidden elsewhere.

“Often the rock will find the right person,” Sarah revealed. “Sometimes people will find a rock on their birthday, when they need a boost, or sometimes it is a family out for a walk who come upon the rocks and get a nice surprise.”

Puppy approves - keen for a seafront walk to seek out secret rocks. Photo: Linda Gee


Are pebbles preferable for painting upon? “The best rocks are river rocks that are smooth and clean,” she explained. “Best rocks are the pink and white Kashmiri river stones anywhere from 30-70mm in size. They are sold in bags of 20kg and often rockers will share a bag if it is too many rocks. Best sourced from a nursery, we have the support of the Four Seasons Nursery in Belrose who do a home-delivery service.

“Our rockers have been using a variety of paint pens from Poscas (a favourite), Life of Colour, Tooli Art, etc., and any acrylic paint. Sealing or varnishing rocks is a must, so the paint doesn't fade or chip off over time.

It has been a great activity during lockdown as it covers so many aspects: art class, reading and geography - then the exercise part when you have a walk and hide the rocks. It is a lot of fun for all!”

Full details on the NBSR Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1552698581430500/about


Suggested hiding spots: Stony Range Botanic Garden, Dee Why; Curl Curl Boardwalk; Manly Lagoon; Red Hill Reserve, Oxford Falls; Warriewood Wetlands; Irrawong Waterfall, Narrabeen; Turimetta Headland; Narrabeen Lagoon.



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