I finished university in 1994, graduating with Science honours in biology, right at the end of the recession that Australia had to have. In practical terms, this meant I was unemployed/underemployed for about two years. I am easily bored (hellooooo ADHD). And I had pretty much no money. How to entertain myself, that is the interesting question.
I decided to prank someone by sending them random things in the mail.
My main requirements were: retain anonymity, find someone who would not be too spooked, and if I found out they were upset by what was happening, I’d confess because I’m not evil or a creep, do do something cheap, and to entertain myself.
I picked a dude who lived with my housemates boyfriend, in a big party house – so I would have regular access to his house and I would get the gossip about how the pranks were going. His name was Dougal. Dougal and I were friendly but not friends. He was one of the generation who was a bit older than me, so there was crossover but I’d be able to get my own good friends to help and it wouldn’t get back to him. He seemed a good candidate.
The thing to make note of is that every single bit of mail I sent him was sent from a different place. Locally (Clayton), Rosebud, Kangaroo ground, CBD, Bundoora. All locations chosen for day trips with me and various other unemployed and bored friends.
Someone different wrote out the address every time. I would take a few into uni and get friends to do them. I even got my mum to do a few. I started carrying around blank envelopes with me and if I was ever in a house with a typewriter (this was 1994, way before everyone had a computer or a printer!) I would use their typewriter to get the different typeface. I grew up in an analogue world.
First up, I sent three letters. This was about one a week to start with.
The first letter was a bit of paper with, typed on it, “Time to wind your clocks”.
Second : a blank sheet of paper.
Third: a letter addressed to his housemate Jonno (not in on the prank) and on the paper, “Please give this to Dougal”. This was the point that I started to hear about the prank from the source.
“WHY would someone send that to me?” Jonno asked everyone who would listen. Note, Jonno was later pranked by different housemates.
After this was when I think a collective brainwave was had between me and my bestie, Kellie. See, we were both unemployed and poor and so most of the places we went we ended up looking in op-shops (thrift shops). One of the things we always found in op-shops were copies of ‘A picnic at hanging rock’, a book that is often assigned as a school reading book.
It was also a movie, one of the defining moments in Australian film, here is a still cast photo:
Hanging rock is a few hours drive from where I live in country Victoria, a very nice place for a visit, I have been there often. Back to the prank.
I bought every copy of PAHR that I found. I think the first one I hand delivered in his letter box but I was nearly caught, so I decided not to do that again. I kept an eye open and did a lot of op shops. And when I bought one, I packaged it, got someone to address it, and sent it to Dougal.
We would pick places where there was an op shop, send a copy of PAHR and buy a new one to send from the next place. Every package was different paper, different wrapping. You can send a thin book for the price of a letter, so I just did that.
I have lost count of how many I sent. It took the better part of a year. I sent them from everywhere, including hanging rock. We made a day trip of it, me and some friends in my Toyota T-18. I got a copy of this photo and cut off the identifying people on the bottom and sent him the photo from somewhere random.
I started underlining insignificant passages and putting meaningless bookmarks in later copies.
I heard the entire Dougal section of the social group were utterly bemused by it. They would sit around and try and work out who it could be. The woman who would later marry him but was not yet dating him exclusively, was convinced she had a secret rival for his affections (lol nope). Everyone was baffled. No one was upset, or I would have stopped it.
He got out a group-signed birthday card and tried to match up handwriting.
My friends thought it was pretty freaking hilarious. No one told. I’m still impressed by this today. This is also before any social media at all – we only had dial up, basic email, and news groups, so it was easier to keep secrets.
So xmas 1995 was about to roll around.
I got a box of chocolates and I took out the chocolates (they were cheap and nasty but of course I ate them). I had a copy of the book that was falling apart and I scrunched up the pages and popped them into the chocolate tray insert, wrapped the box, and left it on his doorstep with a card after the social group xmas party was held at his place.
I have been told that was super mean. You don’t prank a person for a year without being a bit mean sometimes, OK????
Around then I started going out with someone and on our first date I told him I was doing this. He STARED at me and said “You mean to say YOU are the person who has been doing this to Dougal all year?” and he went into shock. Awesome first date hey.
Anyway I had run out of steam and decided to be nice and tell Dougal, after all how could I top the box of ‘chocolates’?
At the New Years Party, I made my drunken way up to Dougal and confessed – I wish i remember what I said but I don’t. I do remember seeing the look on his face and turning and running like the giant coward I am – in case that look of shock was going to turn into anger.
Later when he found me, he clapped his arm on my shoulder and said “I want to thank you for the most surreal year I have ever had.”
Awwwww, wasn’t that nice!
It did however ruin my reputation and I was blamed for literally everything that happened in the next 20 years after this. And only SOME of them were me!
I even have a photo of my social group, including Dougal, having a picnic at hanging rock. 🙂