Article Title:God saves the gay campers
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:21st July 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:340
Text:Devastating floods that ripped through the Manawatu region earlier in the year have taken their toll on the Vinegar Hill campsite, which is sad news for enthusiasts of what has become an annual New Year's pilgrimage for many. Aucklander Mike Binis says he succumbed to Vinegar Hill's charms not long after moving to New Zealand from the northern USA. "When I first moved to New Zealand I had to experience Christmas in the summer, and I'm used to a typical white Christmas, carols, shoveling snow, things like that," he says. "I was in Palmerston North and someone said, why don't you come to Vinegar Hill? The idea of a Christmas barbie by the river was a bit worrying, but I went and had such a good time I've been there every Christmas since." Wellingtonian Calum Bennachie has been a Vinegar Hill enthusiast for about six years. He says it's a good break away from work and heterosexual society. Last year, he was the Queen. What's that all about? “To be elected queen you have to done some form of service to Vinegar Hill over a number of years,” he says. “I've been the condom fairy every year I've been up there, I think that was one of the reasons why they elected me.” As far as is aware, straight Vinegar Hill attendees don't have an annual sovereign presence at their camp. Perhaps it is that, in combination with the intervention of Jesus (or whomever is your deity of choice), that has caused the flood damage at the site to be highly selective. Despite a recent article in the Manawatu Standard that listed Vinegar Hill as the worst hit of all the council regions, the “gay” end of the campsite appears to have escaped the divine wrath fairly lightly. “As far as the physical layout of the domain, there are two sides, there's the larger sort of inland gay side that we take over completely as the only camp camp,” Binis explains. “Then you've got the other side, the straight side which goes along the riverbank – that part's gone. The water came through under the bridge, something like four or five metress above flood level, and just wiped everything out.” The floodwaters bowled over trees, destroyed the toilet block, and picked up the reservoir tank – where it was dumped unceremoniously about fifty metres down the park. There are huge boulders where there used to be campsites for heterosexuals. Their beach no longer exists, whereas the gay beach is about 150 metres bigger than it was last year. Bennachie says that although the straight end of the campsite is a complete wipeout, overall the domain has held up quite well. “There is some damage to the campsite past the main area, and that will need a bit of work done, but it's nowhere near as bad as it is up at the straight end,” he says. “We don't have a two metre high, four meter wide, hundred metre long wall of rocks to try and camp around, whereas they do.” So it looks like the hetero-campers have quite a bit of cleaning up to do. Will it be fixed up in time for this Christmas? “The straight end will not be cleaned up at all in time for this year, possibly ever, there were so many major changes to the layout,” says Binis. What does that mean? Will they all just stay home? “What that means is that the whole gay section may have to share with the straights coming in.” The Manawatu Standard has already reported on this, pondering that straight campers will be sharing camp with the "fabulosity and flair" of the gay community this year at Vinegar Hill. Opinion is divided on whether or not this will be an issue. "We will have to look at approaching the Manawatu District Council to hire the whole end of our venue, so that we can block it off so that it does become a private venue rather than a public venue," says Bennachie. "That would also allow for greater security if there is trouble with any hoons or anything." Binis doesn't anticipate any problems, though. "There has been some talk about barricading or demarcating different points. I don't think that's necessary, everybody gets along and over the years when we have our big New Years Eve bonfire all the straights from the straight end, they're invited over. And a lot of them come on over too." Both Bennachie and Binis have noted damage to the gay end of the campsite that needs some tidying up before Christmas, and they're hoping to round up fellow Vinegar Hill enthusiasts into a working bee to help out. "As far as waiting for the council to do some work, they're not going to do anything until after the winter rains have hit in case there's any more damage," Binis says. "There's also so much work to do that I'm not sure that they're going to be able to put a lot of money into it, it'll be one of the last projects that they work on. "The gay end will need a lot of TLC, but outside of that its in pretty good shape. There's about half a metre of silt over the bottom of the toilet floors, for example, so that's got to be cleaned out, hopefully just before next holidays we'll get enough people interested and get some people there to do some work." Binis hopes that reports of the flooding damage will not deter campers of any persuasion from joining in the fun this year. "I'm wondering how many people are going to have in their mind that there won't be anything down there so they won't go. And I can't answer whether that's true or not until closer to the date. From the pictures I've seen, the gay end still looks perfectly habitable." Chris Banks - 21st July 2004    
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