Russell's Birdman will live to jump another day after a new group of volunteers stepped up to rescue the popular festival.

The Birdman Festival was founded in 2007 by a small group of Russell residents keen to inject some life into the tourist town's sleepy winter months.

Since then it has grown into Northland's biggest mid-winter event, drawing a crowd of up to 5000.

However, a double whammy of volunteer fatigue and lost funding — a gaming machine fund, Pelorus Trust, was a major sponsor but pulled out when Russell's last pokie machines were carted away earlier this year — meant the event's future was in doubt.


The only remaining volunteers, Pania Sigley and Viv Campbell, couldn't take on the task alone so they called a public meeting on Wednesday to gauge whether Russell was committed to keeping the event alive.

Sigley said more than 25 people, all able to offer skills and time, turned out for the meeting at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel.

They set up a core working group of six people including Sigley, Campbell and Duke co-owner Anton Haagh, with the rest a mix of established residents and new business owners.

Birdman organiser Pania Sigley addresses a public meeting at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel on Wednesday evening. Photo / Stephen Western
Birdman organiser Pania Sigley addresses a public meeting at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel on Wednesday evening. Photo / Stephen Western

Dates had been set for this year's festival — July 12-13 — with events compressed into two days instead of three. It would still feature traditional Friday evening events such as the infamous drag race but would wrap up on Saturday afternoon after the Birdman jump.

Prizegiving would take place at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel, replacing former host the Duke of Marlborough Tavern which closed down in March.

Sigley said volunteers were now seeking sponsors and raffle prize donors as they worked to replace the lost funding.

''We're really pleased with how the town responded. It really motivated everyone and brought in fresh blood and new ideas, which was exactly what we wanted.''

Until the event website can be renewed updates will be posted on the Russell Birdman Festival Facebook page.

Terry Greening, Russell-based chairman of the Bay of Islands-Whangaroa Community Board, welcomed the news that Birdman had been saved.


The event was hugely important to Russell but the number of volunteer organisers had dwindled to just two.

''It was the same old faces year after year. We know there are plenty of new people in town, it was just a case of getting them to put their hands up.''

The community board had been able to provide some funding to supplement a grant from the Far North District Council's events investment fund, but it was ''only pennies'' because it was the end of the financial year so the board's bucket was almost empty.