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45 years of campus pranks

In its short history the Bruce campus has seen its fair share of characters, larrikins and tricksters come through the doors as both students and members of staff.

We take a quick look at some of the more famous (and publishable), pranks and stories which have helped shape the culture of our institution as a fun and exciting place to study. 

Picture of stone fairy dancing 

The magic of the Stone Fairy

On the 28th of October 1968 then Prime Minster John Gorton unveiled the Foundation Stone of what would be the site of the Canberra College of Advanced Education in Bruce. However the event didn't exactly go off without a hitch. Despite signage directing those attending the ceremony to the site, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader are believed to have been misdirected and found their way to the North Lyneham tip before eventually making it to the campus site.

The date itself quickly became enshrined in the history and lore of the institution as "Stone Day", the annual celebration of the birth of the Bruce campus and the home of many of our more famous events and incidents.

In 1974 the now former Prime Minister was invited back to the campus by the Student's Association to re-enact the original Stone Day ceremony.

While a curtain was drawn during the stone's originally unveiling, this time the Foundation Stone was covered by a suspiciously plain blanket. Upon pulling the blanket away, Mr Gorton not only revealed the stone, but also awoke a young girl who was lying under the blanket with a 'cigarette' hanging from her mouth and wearing a jumper with the words "Stone Fairy" written across her chest.

Much to the delight of the onlooking crowd (including the former Prime Minster), the Stone Fairy danced a quick jig and disappeared into the crowd as quickly and mysteriously as she arrived and become part of CCAE/UC history.

As part of the 40 year celebrations held in 2008 it was decided that the Foundation Stone would be dedicated for the third time and a search began to find the stone fairy to again play her part in the festivities. Facebook posts, new articles, all staff emails and word of mouth helped the Alumni Office to find Marcia McReynolds in Portland, Oregon.  Ms McReynolds made the long trip back to Australia and not only recreated her original appearance from 34 years earlier, but also combined with didgeridoo player Lewis Langton to perform a tribute to her CCAE days.

Picture of scavenger hunt items 

Scavenger hunt surprises

The 1974 Stone Day would not be the first or last to see student pranks. In fact, the annual student's scavenger hunt would provide some of the most famous visitors to campus.

Alumnus and 1980 Mr Bewdy winner Fred Mitchell recalled the rules of the hunt when speaking to former art curator Charlene Smith "a list of hunt items was released the day before Stone Day and each item was worth a certain amount of points. Each team was also allowed a mystery prize."

After being crowned Mr Bewdy, Fred and his team thought they had victory in the bag as he was regally carried to judging on the newly acquired principal's door and with all other items from the hunt.

"I remember that year we got everything on the list, but we didn't win! Some other group got everything as well and they brought a goat as their mystery item. I guess the judges gave more points for the goat than the door."

Over the years many more strange and seemingly impossible to get items were collected during scavenger hunts including the large bronze direction plate form Mount Ainslie, flags from the top of the Travelodge Motel, street signs, the main entrance sign from ANU, and even the ANU Shuttle Bus (which detoured past Canberra High School in search of passengers). Miraculously an international incident was avoided when the Russian ambassador's car was collected in the early '70s.

Perhaps the most impressive item (in size at least), collected for a scavenger hunt was a full grown elephant which appeared on campus in 1976. With the promise of local news coverage (that never eventuated), students were able to convince a visiting circus to let them "borrow" the elephant as their mystery item.

The appearance of the elephant was made even more surreal as most students had spent the previous night at a concert and then an all night movie marathon.

While it hasn't been confirmed we would like to think that team elephant won the scavenger hunt.

Picture of students with dog on the tucker box 

The day the dog went walkabout

By far and away the most infamous item collected in a scavenger hunt came in 1981 when national icon the Dog on the Tuckerbox appeared on campus. The incident- which made local and national news- has never been publically claimed by CCAE students and still remains somewhat shrouded in mystery.

What we do know is that in the dead of the night a Kingswood station wagon with five CCAE students from Reid House departed Canberra to collect the statue. Students had attempted to steal the dog in 1980 however after loosening the dog from its "tuckerbox" did not have the strength required to lift it from its footings. This time with more bodies (including a large rugby player), the students were able to lift the dog which was still loose from the previous year and load it into the station wagon.

When the people of Gundagai awoke in the morning to discover their most famous resident had disappeared, a frantic search began involving both Gundagai and ACT police. All trails lead to Bruce where the dog was discovered on the concourse wearing CCAE t-shirt and sharing pies with students.

The Student's Association denied any involvement in the abduction and for a time even believed another institution had framed the CCAE after beating them in a football game. In the end the dog was safely collected by the Gundagai Shire Council and restored to its home on top of the tuckerbox where it can still be found today.

With the names of those involved a closely guarded secret to this day, no charges were ever laid over the dognapping.

Picture of Dan Dan the parking man 

Be careful where you park

It's not only students who have had their fun with pranks on campus. From mysterious art donations to extensive fire warden training we have heard many funny but unpublishable stories from our faculty.

One of the more famous staff pranks came from the mid 1970s courtesy of the CCAE's very own parking inspector 'Dan Dan the Parking Man'.

Before the days of boom gates and ticket machines, ex-military man Dan Daniels was hired to keep parking on campus under control. Dan famously took his job very seriously indeed, happily booking anyone- including the Principal – and never rescinded or stopped writing a ticket.

After booking the same blue Volkswagen Beetle a number of times for parking in the same place Dan had enough and decided to take action. He borrowed a forklift from stores and 'moved' the car to a far corner of campus. While Dan was told not to do it again by college administrators it did provide one of the great stories from our history.

If you were involved in any great pranks we would love to hear from you! Just send us a quick email with your story so we can include it in a future article.

Words by Daniel Murphy

Alumni Stories; Student Life; Campus