Bream Creek Show

pumpkinYesterday I broke out my gumboots and checked shirt, hired a car, and enjoyed the kind of agricultural experience I had hitherto associated only with rural NZ towns. The Bream Creek Show north of Hobart was evidence that we share more than a very similar flag with our cousins across the ditch.

I came across A&P Shows rather late in life. In fact, my very first encounter with such an agricultural extravaganza was the Methven Show of 2012. I came out of that experience with a much better appreciation of the various types of sheep, a candyfloss sugar high, and an insatiable desire to win a prize for produce. Third in the open tomato category the following year is the closest I ever got, but my appetite for shows remains. When I heard the radio announcement for the Bream Creek Show this weekend, of course I just had to go along. The fact that two of the entries in the giant pumpkin competition looked set to break the weight record for all of southern Australia just sealed the deal.

As we walked in the gate and surveyed the tents of food vendors, the produce hall, and the wood-shopping poles, I felt quite at home. Methven had primed me well to explain the intricacies of the axe-men’s events to my European friends. Next we toured “gourmet alley,” whereupon the smoke of an open range caught our attention. “Billy Tea and Dampers,” announced a hand-written sign, “Gold Coin.” At that point, overtaken both by imagined scenes from “Waltzing Matilda” and the scent of the golden syrup topping, I needed no further prompting. My friends were not so sure. I agreed to meet them at the next display after fortifying myself with morning tea. The brew was most relaxing.

So far, so familiar. The next display tent, however, changed everything. From a distance, the square enclosure of blue tarpaulin looked quite innocuous. It wasn’t until we got close enough to see the slim back form entwined in the display holder’s hands that the reality of the situation hit home: Australia has snakes. So too, it seems, do Australian A&P Shows. Tiger snakes, copperhead snakes, and even teeny tiny whip snakes, squiggling over the canvas floor and melting flat in the sun. Naturally, we lined up to pat the most venomous of the three varieties, before wandering over to the Lions stand for hot chips. It’s just what you do at that kind of an event.

As for the pumpkins, 422.5kg took the record, well and truly. In fact, it was so exciting to watch the weigh in that I had to go back for a second round of tea and damper just to recover. This time, the Europeans also partook, with the verdict being that the Aussie camping staples not half bad. To top is all off, not one person asked me to “fush and chups” all day. Finally, I think I might actually be winning at Australia.

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A Kiwi Wedding

Last week I boarded a long metal tube, swapped my jacket for jandals, and headed for the land of the long white cloud. Back just in time for a family wedding, I touched down on NZ soil to the strains of the familiar nu zild twang, a cacophony of cicadas, and the muggy dregs of a marathon summertime. A Tui sang. Love was in the air.

Heading up north of Auckland for the ceremony, the roadside signs reminded me that I was well and truly home. Where else would you come across an advert for the sport of ‘axe throwing’, juxtaposed with faded adverts for tip top ice cream? The Hororata Highland Games may come close, but aside from the sword-dancing, blades are mercifully absent in the southern celebration. While it’s true that any knife-related mishap on either island would be covered by ACC, that’s likely to be small consolation to the freshly injured. Even though the weekend was all about celebrating the support of loved ones in sickness and in health, we decided it was best to err on the side of the latter, so we kept driving – for better or for worse. (Just for the record, we made it to the wedding, all limbs intact, and it was lovely).

I love this country because of all its surprises that lie just off the beaten track. I also love it because it’s home to my someone-to-share-those-surprises-with. In the three years we’ve been based down in the South Island we’ve discovered llama trekking, penny farthing racing, and little blue penguin watching, to name a few. (Actually, the so-called ‘penguin advocates’ who were stopping traffic and helping the birds to cross the road were more of an attraction than the wildlife itself!) Then there are the local gems – from the giant sculptures that mark out rural towns (the Salmon of Rakaia is an iconic local landmark), to the hidden waterfalls and breathtaking vistas just up in the hills and around the lakes (straight out of Lord of The Rings – clichéd, but true). Of course, the North Island’s not half bad either – think white sand beaches, Pohutukawa blossoms, and, well, side-of-the-road axe-throwing, should it take your fancy… Whichever island you’re in, there’s always something new to try out, and you always come out richer for the experience.

Do I appreciate what we have in the land of the long white cloud just that little bit more having been away from it all? I do.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian