I do love a good busker - and that's exactly what I found one Saturday afternoon as we ambled back towards the city after visiting Wynyard Quarter.

Not being remotely interested in rugby or its attendant hoopla, I'd vowed to avoid the whole downtown area until the Rugby World Cup was over but after a spontaneous yum cha at Grand Harbour we decided to take a stroll and see what all the fuss was about.

And that's where we discovered MulletMan starting to assemble a crowd for his show.

A busking performance is typically about ninety per cent foreplay; there's a great deal of build up and anticipation before the main event. The early stages generally involve cracking a stock-whip and getting the audience to cheer and clap on cue in order to attract more curious viewers.


I always try to see a performance or two during Auckland's busker festivals. A couple of years ago I let my (then) six-year-old volunteer to help a bed-of-nails guy muster an audience in Vulcan Lane. My daughter had been seriously keen but by the time she was standing on some strange man's shoulders I was wondering what had possessed me to agree.

Anyway, I considered myself something of a busking connoisseur. Having recently seen tightrope walkers in Covent Garden, London, and acrobats on La Rambla, Barcelona, I wasn't expecting any surprises in Auckland, New Zealand. I was wrong about that.

In an effort to get the crowd cheering competitively, MulletMan divided us into two groups: group A and group B. Then he indicated a gentleman in the audience, and said and mimed something like: "And you sir, in the Australian rugby jersey, you are group C - and after the other two groups have clapped and cheered you're going to run up the front here and pull your trousers down."

Now even I knew that was a joke and I can be slow on the uptake about such matters. But the humour was lost on this Wallabies supporter - aka group C - who waited for the cheering then obediently rushed up, turned his back, bent over and pulled down his trousers to reveal a pair of black briefs. (Perhaps he was a closet All Blacks supporter.)

The crowd roared with laughter, MulletMan was shocked and I wondered if I needed to shield my daughter's eyes.

The climax of MulletMan's act involved juggling fire, a knife and a spanner while riding a tall unicycle. It was impressive. I didn't realise quite how impressive until I read that the first two items (along with the whip used earlier) were classified as "dangerous materials and objects" according to section nine of Auckland City Council's eighteen-page handbook devoted to street performer policy.

Buskers lend an unmistakable international flavour to a city.

MulletMan, a refugee from Christchurch since the earthquakes, has performed in Dubai, Edinburgh and Fremantle. As well as having a talent for juggling and uni-cycle-riding, his banter was genuinely funny - striking just the right note of naughtiness without obscenity and Kiwi-ness without the cringe factor.

A little bit of magic happens when you encounter a busker in a public space. There's a serendipitous spontaneity that lends the process a sense of almost being a clandestine operation.

There's an unspoken camaraderie between the audience members who'd otherwise be strangers you'd feel no connection with.

And there's the breath-holding anticipation as you wonder if the performer will be able to complete the feat as promised.

The sheer vulnerability intrinsic in the art of busking is seductive too.

MulletMan, and thousands of performers like him, continue to practise their craft despite the fact there's no guarantee of an audience, an income, applause or even cooperative weather.

On some level I think we recognise their audacious bravery is as momentous as their technical expertise.