3 June, Army Drill Hall, Napier and A&P Showgrounds, Hastings
You can buy a Roller Cock for $25 if you know where to go. Army Drill Hall in Napier; wet weekend. You know it’s a canary, right? There’s hundreds of them in this place. Lined up, behind bars, standing at attention. The ‘best-in-show’s gets rosettes and prize money. Up to $5 for the top-flight winners.
It feels like a particularly Kiwi form of entertainment, for those who paid their $2 (“kiddies free”), but even more so for the stage hands and directorial crew, in their marshal jackets, their laminated name-badges, clipboards: joining clubs, running the annual show, volunteering to move in the trestle tables the night before, make the tea, take the tickets, working your way up to adjudicator, judge, wielding the certificates, holding all that hope in your hands, now that’s a show!
Dusty club rooms, monthly meetings (2nd Tuesday 6pm sharp) all culminating in this one big day; doesn’t really matter what it is: orchids, dahlias, vintage cars, bridge, harriers, birds, or more precisely poultry and pigeons.
This one weekend sees the latter host its annual meet. Chickens, ducks, pigeons, in residence in rows of tidy pens. A young redhead – maybe 12 – thrusts his hand through the bars of a near-by cage: “He’s a big boy, my best, as round as a football”. “He” is a grey Pekin Bantam, fluffed up and aggro, not bred for the life of a battery hen but – for one night only – trapped that way. Then on the other side of the motu the 70th Annual Bird Show sees canaries, budgies, finches in a dozen different types – did you know there’s a canary that looks like Ringo Starr? – some so plain you’d think you were looking at a common or garden sparrow, made more brilliant by a posy of gaudy rosettes, proclaiming it to be the best of its type (its type being dowdy dull hausfrau).
Experiences like this are the motherlode of cultural references: Richard Brimer, Brian Culy, both have captured scenes just like this one in their art. Here is the raw material. There’s beauty in the realness of the people: rough-and-ready, up-since-dawn, smelling of pies, the steam off their gumboot tea warming their ruddy cheeks; and in the symmetry and order of the lines, military precision rendered from mayhem; and in each perfect fleck on each perfect feather; and in the big pride of even the small wins. Our intake of art can so often be second-hand, translated by an expert eye, but in unexpected places art is alive, if you know where to go, on a wet weekend.