"Mackay, you've got the tree climbing."
And with those words from Steve Hollander, founder of the Rural Games, my heart sank, along with my dreams of being a speed shearing commentator.
Did Hollander not realise my shearing pedigree as a farmer/dagger/crutcher/hacker who could shear 200 lambs in a day, albeit with tail wind? And what made him think Craig 'Wiggy' Wiggins (a broken-down rodeo and jet boat sprinting commentator, who makes an occasional cameo appearance on this website) could do a better job? What were his credentials?
With slumped shoulders, I meandered mournfully to the farthest corner of the Queenstown Recreation Ground, venue of the inaugural 2015 Rural Games, to describe some skinny bloke climbing up a tree. Grant Nisbett, eat your heart out.
If I couldn't land the plum job of speed shearing, why couldn't I do something exciting like the dog trials, the Highland Games, the speed fencing, the wood chopping, the coal shovelling, the egg throwing and catching or that most quintessential of rural sports, the gumboot throwing?
Three years on from that fateful day and I'm heading back to the Rural Games again, this time in the Square at Palmerston North this weekend. Hollering Steve Hollander has again handed out the commentary duties and I'm excited to be handling the dog trials, the egg throwing and catching, the gumboot throwing, the cow pat tossing and the olive stone spitting.
But I'm most excited by the most exciting sport at the Rural Games. Yep, you guessed it. The tree climbing!
I had no idea, three years earlier, when I wandered dejectedly to the farthest corner of the Queenstown Recreational Ground, what a brilliant sporting spectacle the speed tree climbing is. This is not some average Joe climbing up a tree. The sport is about supremely athletic arborists swinging on ropes and pulleys, going from limb to limb like monkeys and completing the different tasks that make up their workday. Then, the competition culminates with a 12 metre speed rope climb. Quite literally a race to the top!
Thanks for letting me call that one Steve. I owe you a three-year-old apology.
The Hilux New Zealand Rural Games over the weekend are just one cog in a huge eight days for the Manawatu region. There's the Running of the Wools in Feilding on Friday, followed that evening by Norwood Rural Sports Awards at the Awapuni Racecourse featuring such luminary guests as Steve Hansen, Eric Murray and Marc Ellis.
That leads into the NZ AgriFood Week and the Central Districts Field Days. Little wonder Manawatu calls itself NZ's farming's capital.
Talking of farming, here's a question for you. Is it just me or is there a certain irony in a part-Maori MP for Tauranga becoming the new National Party leader? Those with good memories will recall being told from a man, ad nauseam, that he was merely "happy to be the MP for Tauranga" when he probably harboured a desire to be the first Maori leader of the National Party and first Maori Prime Minister.
I interviewed Simon Bridges for the first time last week and asked him if the Nats were still going to be farmer-friendly now that they're being run by two 'Westies'. I reminded him of the farming pedigree and background of every National Party leader since Jim Bolger took over from Jim McLay in 1986.
Bolger – King Country farmer. Jenny Shipley – Mid Canterbury farmer. Bill English – Southland farmer. Don Brash – kiwifruit farmer. John Key – shareholder in a West Otago dairy farm. And then farmer Bill came back for a second dig! And lest we forget Kiwi Keith Holyoake – Wairarapa farmer – who went one better than Bill by having two cracks at PM's job (1957 and 1960-72).
National has long coveted the title of being the farmers' party. Let's see if the current MP for Tauranga can keep it that way. There is, after all, a former MP for Tauranga running around with a billion dollars a year to throw at the provinces.