Bid to safeguard Hell Hole

By Peter de Graaf

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Efforts are under way to turn Russell's homegrown Hell Hole of the Pacific event into a fully-fledged annual festival.

The Hell Hole festivities involve townsfolk dressing in costumes from the 1830s and acting out scenes from the town's past as a rowdy whaling port rife with gambling, prostitution and grog.

The event originally ran for two weeks during the Rugby World Cup and returned this summer for weekends in December and January with a final outing on February 23-24.

Just Imagine gallery owner Cristine Aronson, the driving force behind the Hell Hole, said the festival was a work in progress with new scenarios and actors added each time.

New features this year included a set of stocks to punish miscreants, Governor Hobson arriving on the tall ship R Tucker Thompson, the French Catholic Bishop Pompallier meeting his Anglican counterpart, and a re-enactment of Russell's first duel, fought by rival shopkeepers Joel Polack and Ben Turner in 1838.

Ms Aronson said the idea behind the festival was to make use of Russell's unique history to give people another reason, apart from natural beauty, to visit the town.

"People go to places where things are happening, so we decided to make things happen. We wanted to give people a reason to come to Russell."

She developed the skits with Brad Mercer and David McKenzie of Arcadia Lodge, basing them loosely on historical events, while artist Helen Pick made 33 period figures to decorate the town.

In 2011 the event was funded by a Rugby World Cup grant, while this year grants from Creative Communities and the Russell Business Association paid for costume hire and advertising.

Her goal was to make the event financially independent by holding a ball, concert and a gambling night with proceeds to the Hell Hole. The festival's newspaper, The Not-So-Noble Anchorage, already pays its own way through advertising.

She also wanted to expand the Hell Hole into a major annual festival with nightly events, themed restaurant menus and a range of Hell Hole-styled activities.

The Hell Hole Festival is open to anyone who wants to take part in the scenarios or simply dress up. Last weekend saw people come from as far away as Whangarei to take part. For more information email justimagine@xtra.co.nz, check out the Hell Hole Facebook page or call (09) 403 8360.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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