24 September 2021

Painted rocks turn Canberra walks into artistic, whimsical treasure hunts

| Damien Larkins
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Painted rock with 'love' on it

You never know where you’ll find a painted rock in Canberra’s suburbs. Photo: Tiffany Fletcher.

Have you stumbled across small, hand-painted rocks on your walks recently? The playful pastime is becoming a growing trend in the ACT.

Across Canberra, locals are lovingly applying artworks to rocks and then placing them in public parks, paths and other places for strangers to find.

Native animals, flowers, book characters, superheroes, fruit and messages of hope – the rocks spark a moment of delight for those lucky enough to discover them.

The ACT ROCKS Facebook group is packed with creative Canberrans creating clutches of colourful stones who are hinting at where they’ll be dropped.

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The group’s comments are filled with photos of beaming rock-hunters showing off their treasured finds.

O’Connor teacher Tiffany Fletcher has been painstakingly painting a set of rocks each day for the past month.

She loves the simple act of bringing a little bit of joy into strangers’ lives “as random acts of kindness”.

“It’s something I can do with my kids, and they love going and hiding them, and finding them,” she says.

Painted rocks on ground

You never know what painted rocks you’ll find around Canberra. Photo: Tiffany Fletcher.

For Tiffany, it’s also about community connection, which lately has become increasingly important.

“You leave them there knowing that somebody will find it and somebody will give it to somebody else,” she says.

“Somebody they’ve never met or they don’t know has left a little piece of joy for them.”

Each rock also has a message encouraging the finder to pay that joy forward.

Young boy holding up painted rocks

The ACT ROCKS page is full of pictures of happy people proudly displaying their finds. Photo: Tiffany Fletcher.

“On the back of every rock it says ‘ACT ROCKS’, then most people post a pic, keep or re-hide [their rock],” says Tiffany.

“If you particularly like the rock you can keep it, you can give it to somebody or you can re-hide it.”

Tiffany has been involved in the ACT ROCKS group for about 18 months, but she admits her rock-painting skills weren’t great at first.

“I was scrolling through my photos the other day and I saw the first set of rocks I painted,” she says. “They were horrific. I started off painting really basic things – basic shapes, basic monsters.

“As I’ve become more confident, I’ve moved into animals with textured fur and feathers, and buildings and things like that.”

READ ALSO The only iconic bus shelter where adding your art is actively encouraged

Tiffany was doing two sets a week, but when lockdown began, she started doing a set each night.

Now she spends every evening on the couch, with a set of paint pens and a pile of rocks.

She always gives one or two away from every night’s work, left in her letterbox for contactless collection.

“People always ask me, ‘Can I buy one?’ but I always say I don’t sell my rocks,” says Tiffany. “But I’m happy to gift you one.

“I don’t paint them to keep them – I paint them to give to people.”

Prior to lockdown, the Fletcher family would drop their rocks in public a couple of times a week, and it was a great chance to talk to people and make new friends.

“Sometimes I’m there and people will see me looking around and they’ll come up and go, ‘Are you looking for rocks too? We’ve come down to find Tiffany’s rocks,'” she says.

“My kids will go, ‘That’s mum, that’s mum!’ which is really lovely.”

While it’s a close-knit community, it’s not unusual to never hear what happens to the rocks after they are dropped off.

READ ALSO What can shared green spaces do for community wellbeing?

But Tiffany says that’s OK.

“I reckon when I drop a set of seven rocks, I’ve got to have made at least three people happy,” she says.

Tiffany plans to drop her collection all across Canberra when lockdown ends.

Find out more at ACT ROCKS.

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I found my first painted rock some years ago. It was in bushland in the Blue Mountains. I took a photograph, found the site on the internet where to log finds, but found I had to join, so didn’t log it, or others I have found since. If I could have done this without actually needing to join, I would have logged them and included the photographs. I have no interest in joining, as I am not planning to paint my own rocks, but it would have been good to have logged and shown the photograph, and expressed my pleasure at finding the rocks.

Capital Retro8:54 am 19 Sep 21

I’m sure the lawnmowing contractors will be delighted. They will be checking their public liability cover right now.

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