By Insider – Jock Phillips
We are now into the business end of the World Cup. The hordes of Irish and Scottish and Argentinian and English and Italian fans in their campervans have gone home, licking their wounds. There don’t seem to be many Aussies or Welsh around either. The few French get a cheery wave as they pass in the street. The action has moved to Auckland, and the kids are on holiday. So I decided the place to be was the Auckland waterfront. The sun was shining, the harbour sparkling, and people were there to enjoy themselves. What impressed me as I wandered around was that the REAL New Zealand Festival had provided something for everyone. Here are a few of the different scenes that I saw and heard as I wandered round.
Scene 1: The piercing scream of chainsaws going at top pull me to the outside space on Queen’s Wharf. The ANZAXE competition is in full throttle. Australian woodsmen in yellow singlets and Kiwis in black are aggressively shaving slivers of wood with their saws, or axing them in the underhand chop. The axemen are huge brawny types. The competition is fierce and close. Beside me a grandfather and his young grandson are watching intently.
Granddad: ‘Well, it’s the relay next’.
Grandson: ‘Let’s hope the Kiwis win, like they did in the footie.’
Granddad: ‘Have you ever seen wood-chopping like this? When I was kid it was always the most exciting thing at the local country show. They brought the blokes in from the bush country and let them at it. But these ones look like they’re professional. The announcer says that they compete with one another all over the place, in Sydney as well as here. It’s about to start, cross your fingers.’ The relay starts with a cross saw, then a chain saw, then an underhand chop and finally the standing chop. It was not long before the Aussies were in front.
Granddad: ‘Well it looks like THEY have won. Let’s go and have a cheer up with some candy floss for old times sake. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and see of the Kiwis can do it then.’
Scene 2: I approach the Waka Māori further along the waterfront. There are a series of tents. I enter the first. Carvers are at work. A young Māori kid is watching intently. There is a very long pou (pole) half-carved. ‘What’s that for?’ I ask. ‘It will go up in Taupō. The local council wants it’. ‘How long will it take to finish?’ ‘It will open in December’.
Further along are four small cubicles three sides enclosed in black and the fourth open to observers. In each a tattooist is at work. Sample designs hang on the black walls. A youngish Pākehā man stands looking for a while; then leans over to one of those with their arm out being worked on. ‘Does it hurt?’ he asks.
‘How long have you been there?’
‘About an hour and a half.’
‘Do you want one?’ interrupts the tattooist.
‘Could do,’ comes the reply.
I move forward and enter the waka, greeted by a very warm ‘Kia ora.’ There is a large exhibition , ‘Rau tau: a hundred years of Maori rugby’. Each panel is framed by a beautiful flowing Māori design. There are a lot of words and some nice images. It is presented decade by decade. Old friends appear again – Tom Ellison, that creative footballer from Otago; George Nepia, fullback hero; Buck Shelford, tough as nails and enthusiast for the haka. I notice the audience is largely grey-headed males, mostly Pākehā. Two of them stop before the 1950s panel. There is a photo and text portrait of Pat Walsh.
‘Well, do you remember Pat Walsh? He almost lost us that series against the ‘boks in ’56. He made a muck-up of playing full-back in the first test, and then they lost the second. A jolly good thing they brought in Don Clarke. Now he was a real champion.’
‘That’s pretty unfair. Don’t you remember they kept Pat Walsh in the team as centre; and he played there real well. He was a clever bloke; and did a heck of a lot for counties rugby. And if I remember right, didn’t he bring Don Clarke back from South Africa at the end of this life when he was dying from cancer? Good bloke and a helluva footballer, I say.’
Scene 3: I return to Queen’s Wharf and enter The Cloud. There is a very long cat-walk. The audience is almost entirely well-dressed women, apart from the bevy of photographers, all male, crouched at the end of the walk to take photos. In search of my own, I join them. 46 fashion houses show their wares for the spring and summer seasons, beginning with Zambesi and ending with Jockey. It is a Fashion Week show. I am naturally interested in the male garments – the brightly coloured underpants, and also, incredibly, walk shorts! On the way out I hear two elegantly-dressed women discussing the show.
‘Well, trouser suits seem out, don’t they?’
‘Yes, and aren’t the hem lines short? Many of them are very uneven in front. I don’t think I have good enough legs to wear that cut.’
‘Yes, but they did look flowing and comfortable, didn’t they?’
‘It was good to see so little black. We have had rather too much black over the last wee while haven’t we?’
‘Couldn’t agree more. The colours now seem to be cool pastels, with big blocks of colour and very few floral patterns…’
Scene 4: On the way out I pass a spectacular looking bright orange sports car. Perhaps the blokes standing round were partners to all the women watching the fashion show. The car was a Hulme supercar, modelled on Canam cars, and named in honour of Denny Hulme the famous Kiwi racing driver.
‘Top speed is 214 km/h’ says one bloke to another ogling bystander. ‘Fancy driving at that speed’.
‘Exciting eh. But where would you do it? This thing is made for the road, you know, not the race track.’
Scene 5: I head west along the waterfront clutching a ticket to Taste of New Zealand. I enter the large arena of Victoria Park. There are tents on all sides. I purchase my ‘crowns’, the currency used to purchase the culinary goodies, grab a Moa Stout, and sit in the evening sun to listen to Hanna Grace, a lyrical vocalist in the Tracy Chapman mode, performing on the Peroni bandstand. The large number of people swooning around are in couples or mixed groups of four or five. I feel distinctly under-dressed. The men universally have stylish open-neck shirts and smart jackets; the women are in elegant black. I meet an old acquaintance. She has a friend with her.
‘What have you tried, so far?’ she asks.
‘Just a beer,’ I mumble.
‘Let’s get a taste of that Laurent-Perrier Champagne. We might as well go for the best’.
‘Well, I’m here to taste Kiwi,’ I say. ‘Forrest’s Riesling has a huge reputation. I am going to try that. But I wouldn’t mind going to the whiskey masterclass. When you hear the bagpipes, there is a session on sweet and smoky malts about to begin. I think I’ll head off there.’
‘What about something to eat? I’ve got my eyes on the cured big eye tuna. It’s at the Cru on Sale St stall.’
‘Perhaps, but I could do with some meat – how about Mahy farms Beef Cheek with carrot mash and pedro Ximenez jus?’
We eat and drink, listen to music and spend a short while at the Fisher & Paykel display of kitchen equipment. I try a sliver of specialty fudge brownie. It’s so delicious I buy a packet. All very nice – if you have money and taste and good middle-class urban aspirations.
The crowd at Taste of New Zealand is very different to those who enjoyed watching the axemen or Waka Māori. Later that evening a different group again, younger and more hip, would listen to the Songbirds perform in The Cloud. There are many different audiences to be satisfied by this festival, and yesterday, it seemed to me, whatever your interests or age or ethnicity or income, a good time was being had by all.