It's the stuff childhood stories are made of - running away with the gypsies. But for some, even in New Zealand, it's a reality.

For Sue Thorby it wasn't exactly running away but, trading in her job as Student Success Manager at Whanganui UCOL to hit the road with the travelling gypsy fair.

Months before Thorby had visited the fair with her grandson and liked the vibe. Then she
saw an advertisement for a job as the Fair's music manager. She went for it.

"I think a lot of people were surprised," Thorby said. "But I think a lot of people knew I was quite free-spirited. So in some ways it was a surprise and in some ways it wasn't a surprise."


As music manager, Thorby is responsible for the "sound" of the fair and with music starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm, it's a big job. As well as being the DJ, Sue performs three or four hours of live music, and runs scheduled shows and encourages audience participation.

Setting up the stall and lugging heavy music gear is hard work but fair owners Jim and Venus Banks arrange all the bookings, publicity and logistics, a welcome change for Sue who's used to booking her own tours.

"It's hard work but it's great and I love the lifestyle. And for me it's almost like getting back into my skin again."

Thorby is a hit with the Fair's manager, Gavin Mackenzie.

"Having people sitting in the green and yelling an encore and singing along and getting up and dancing - we haven't seen that for a while. It's great and people are gobsmacked."

Mackenzie has been with the fair for 25 years, joining while he was still a sergeant in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He says turning up in a hippie house truck at Ohakea Airbase raised a few eyebrows back then, as did turning up among the hippies in an air force uniform.

Its inception was a continuation of Nambasa, a series of 1970s music and art festivals with a large contingent of house trucks. The legendary festivals focused on peace, love and an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

The label of "hippie dole bludgers" was more apparent then than now, and Mackenzie says that's not an option anyway.


"You need a permanent address for a start," he said.

"We own our own homes, we run our own businesses, we do our tax like everybody else."

The Original Gypsy Fair has been a regular fixture in New Zealand towns for 30 years. With 22 stalls and 40 travellers, keeping the show on the road requires the skills of a project manager.

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