RAMBLINGS : Russell Birdman Festival 2011





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Could this be New Zealand's maddest mid-winter festival? Once a year the people of Russell shake off the winter blues with the Birdman Festival, a three-day celebration of Kiwi ingenuity and eccentricity.

A Russell handyman nicknamed Caveman has won the supreme Birdman trophy for the second year running - by leaping from the town wharf dressed as a caveman.

Russell's Birdman Festival drew 3000 people and 16 teams competing to jump the greatest distance - or in the most entertaining manner - from the end of Russell wharf. A storm on Friday night dented crowd numbers and gave organisers a sleepless night, but apart from one brief cloudburst the rain held off for the rest of the three-day event.

Saturday's Birdman jump was won overall by Jason Bye and his cavewomen Awhina Kopu, Samantha Porter and Nicky Harvey, who also took out the title for best team. Mr Bye, who won last year as Flash Gordon, was at a loss to explain his winning streak.
"I came up with the idea because Caveman is my nickname anyway, and it hadn't been done," he said.

Mr Bye was not sure whether he, his teammates and support crew would be able to use up their winnings - a bar tab of $500 and $500 cash - in Saturday night's celebrations, "but we'll give it a good go".

Rugby World Cup and sci-fi themes featured strongly this year, with regular Birdman Barry Price entering as Dr Who and Russell Realty as almost the entire cast of Star Wars.

Whangarei woman Moana Witehira won a competition run in Friday's Advocate and entered a team called the Flying Ninjas. In one morning her friends and family built a flying machine with bamboo, duct tape and a microlight sail that looked like it could have flown halfway to Chile but, like the other entries, plummeted from the end of the wharf instead.

Other events during the three-day festival included a drag race, barbecue cook-offs, model plane flying and a man vs man-marlin contest. The children's spaghetti eating contest was won by 11-year-old Bella Pownall of Christchurch, while the highly competitive adults' final was won by a man the MC dubbed "the gentle giant" - Kawakawa's top cop, Sergeant Nathan Davis.

Co-organiser Bridget Hughes said the turnout, between 2500 and 3000 during the main event, was down on last year - but better than expected given the wild weather of previous days.

"Not too many of us slept on Friday night. After that storm, to have a fine sunny day and see so many people turn up is amazing."

Mrs Hughes said the festival, started in 2006 to bring people to Russell in mid-winter, would "definitely" be back next year and would continue to expand. It was well supported by businesses and volunteers, who poured in huge amounts of time and effort.

Published in the Northern Advocate, July 2011.

Read about the 2010 Birdman Festival

Best distance: Tapeka Del Mar Ducks, Russell/Auckland
Best individual: Barry Price of Russell as Dr Who
Best team: Caveman Jason Bye and his Cavewomen, Russell/Auckland
Crowd favourite: Rugby World Cup supporters' bus, Pania Sigley and Maryanne Hooson, Russell

Children's art at the Birdman Festival


Copyright Peter de Graaf 2011 : Ramblings designed and built by Peter de Graaf : Last updated July 2011