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Together Again

Thu 27 Jan 2005 In: Events

The glamour and shock value may have been reduced, but the once-ailing Hero Festival has become one of last remaining beacons of gay community solidarity. As Hero approaches for another year, a quick skim over the planned events for the annual festival shows an evolution has taken place since Hero's beginnings. What was once centred on a parade – touted as a celebration but often a politically-charged, bloody-minded, reactionary freakshow – has now become focussed on a sense of community, camaderie, and togetherness. Some of the glamour, colour, and shock value may have been lost, but in its place is a burgeoning social network that allows gays and lesbians from all walks of life to meet and connect in a context which no longer needs to be obsessed with brash sexuality. The new Hero model, where a centralised Brand Management Group merely oversees individually organised events in an umbrella fashion, is also perhaps a sign that the community has come of age. Hero spokesman Keir Robertson says collating this year's events has been remarkably stress-free. “Because the gay community has for some time now been organising their own events, it's been pretty easy really,” he says. “We (the Brand Management Group) just collate the information, assemble it into a calendar and act as liaisers between event organisers and the media. The hardest thing is getting the information out of the groups.” Sadly, few have been chomping at the bit to create any new events for Hero this year. “Interest in creatingnew events for this years Hero Festival has been pretty low, but then again we did not really actively seek them out, as we're still operating the festival on a low-key basis.” SWIMMING Keir still sees plenty to look forward to, though. He says he's looking forward to the Annual Chocolate Fish Swim Meet, organised by Team Auckland Master Swimmers. It's an event that's been going strong for nearly 12 years now, says spokesman Kevin Hudson, and the team likes to tie it in with Hero. “It was designed originally to encourage people who weren't part of the swim team to come along and see wht it's all about,” he says. “It's a nice, soft environment for people to come into, where they're not thrown in the deep end and swimming up against serious swimmers.” Yes, this is one of those communist-style events where the winner doesn't really matter. “The chocolate fish aren't awarded to the winners, they're awarded to the people who make the most effort, even if they come last or do things slightly off-beat.” Hudson says they've yet to run out of chocolate fish, although there's probably no shortage of participants doing offbeat things. There are ordinary swim races planned, but many of the events are quite weird – egg-and-spoon races in the pool, a clothing relay race where each subsequent tag team member has to swim in an increasing amount of garments, pushing balls from one end of the pool to the other without using limbs... it all sounds a bit like a cross between Top Town and those primary school sports days where you'd always end up with prickles stuck in your arse. Still, it'll at least be good for a perve. There's a $10 charge for entry, and a BBQ afterwards. All the proceeds go to Herne Bay House, so any dignity lost during the course of the day is for a good cause. And who knows who you might meet? BOWLING But hey, if swimming's not your bag, then perhaps ten-pin bowling might be more your gig. The Auckland Gay Bowling Association is having a Hero tournament of its own, and although they're not giving away chocolate fish, you get to keep your clothes on and it seems unlikely you'll have to wear anything more unusual than a pair of bowling shoes. Association spokesman Alex Spence says anywhere between fifty and a hundred turn up annually for the event, and it's an even mix of girls and boys. “It is a social/competitive league in that we do play for prizes and trophies and things,” he says, “but it is very social, and there's lots of beer drinking and shenanigans going on. It's generally a nice place to meet people that's not a bar or a club.” It's a handicap tournament, so once again anyone can win and be in with a chance for spot prizes, and once again – it's all for chariddy, yeah. In a burst of interactivity, winners can even choose a charity for the day's proceeds to go to. There's a $20 charge for this one, and don't forget to bring $1 to hire your shoes. The balls are free, says Alex, and so is the fun. GARDENS But maybe you'd rather have your fingers stuck in the dirt, rather than run the risk of needing to have them surgically removed from an undersized bowling ball? Cos if there's one thing we learn from Hero every year, it's that there are an awful lot of gay gardeners out there. And while TVNZ may have fielded a minor flood of calls protesting their screening of a documentary on gay gardeners last year, there's no shortage of people rolling up on an annual basis to attend the ever-popular Heroic Gardens, where gay gardeners from around the city throw open their private gates with Willy Wonka-esque abandon to let in the milling throngs of greenery enthusiasts. I asked organiser Geoffrey Marshall what he thinks keeps people coming back for their yearly fix. “Basically because people have a good time,” he says. “It's different every year. We realised that, much more than other garden festivals, there's a sense of fun about the whole day as well as garden enjoyment. People have a good time beyond just visiting the gardens, there's a lot of personal involvement with the owners.” One-third of the programme is always entirely new, with the other two-thirds made of gardens featured two or more years previously. The twenty-four gardens are spread from Herne Bay through Mt Eden, Hillsborough, New Lynn, across to Glendowie. “Most people don't try and do the lot, or if they do they spread it over two days,” says Marshall. “If you're going to do it properly, you'll probably read the programme and judge which ones sound more interesting, or which ones you haven't seen before, or ones you've seen in previous years you want to see again.” $30 buys you entry into all of the gardens over the weekend of February 19-20. You can get your tickets from Palmers, Kings   

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Thursday, 27th January 2005 - 12:00pm

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