Duck for cover - feathered fiend on loose

Baxter, University of Wollongong's new "evil duck" mascot, chases down PE teaching student Mary Bergmeier. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Baxter, University of Wollongong's new "evil duck" mascot, chases down PE teaching student Mary Bergmeier. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

An "evil" duck that roamed the campus, stealing lunches and chasing students, has inspired the University of Wollongong's first official mascot.

The giant, foam-faced bird appeared at UOW's open day at the weekend, after months of back-and-forth discussion with Queensland mascot-making company AusCoz.

UOW commissioned the costume by sending the company a photo of the real-life "evil" duck, which was known to snatch property and angrily guard UOW's duck pond lawn from 2000 until January 2007, when it was likely killed in a dog attack.

Baxter is based on a real duck that roamed the campus more than a decade ago.

Baxter is based on a real duck that roamed the campus more than a decade ago.

Fran Walder, director of student experience at UOW, said part of the creative challenge lay in perfecting the hint of cunning in the feathered creature's gaze.

"We want the duck to be cool and scary, not nice and cute," she said.

"He's the kind of duck that might walk past and hit the back or your head a little bit when he walks by - naughty, maybe a little bit nice."

A group of students have signed on to embody the $5500 costume, but only once they have been properly trained in line with strict protocols, which include no speaking.

The students also have to be taller than 176cm in order to see properly out of the costume's eye vents and be willing to dance, on occasion, in line with moves being developed by a student dance club.

Ms Walder said the mascot's value lay in how it gets students to engage with the university.

International students, in particular, liked to pose with the duck and send pictures home.

A contest to name the feathered fiend (the winning entry was Baxter, after UNSW Vice-Chancellor Philip Baxter, who played an important role in the origins of UOW) attracted 900 entries.

"If students are engaged in their university experience there's higher retention rates," Ms Walder said.

"If they socialise and build networks, those networks support them throughout their academic journey, they are successful graduates and go on to be highly successful professionals."

Mascots are commonplace in USA universities but UOW is believed to be one of a handful of Australian universities to adopt the tradition.

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