Queens gather for right royal event

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:28 01/01/2013
Murray Smith Vinegar Hill
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ
YOUR HIGHNESS: Murray Smith, AKA Queen Muriel, takes the role of Camp Queen at Vinegar Hill Camp Ground.

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Despite claims of fighting, abuse, and even a divorce, the 1800 queens who converged on Vinegar Hill for a "camp camp" were refusing to let anything spoil their annual New Year party.

Vinegar Hill camp site in the Putai Ngahere Reserve near the Rangitikei River has been hosting members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community every year since 1977 and has in recent times become somewhat of a fixture on the gay calendar.

Some diehards arrive before Christmas but the majority descend on the camp for family fun and frivolity in the days leading up to the New Year.

The events leading into the New Year include a roaring bonfire, a concert, dog shows, fashion contests, drag queen parades and the traditional crowning of the camp queen.

Queen of 2012 Murray Smith - known by everyone as Queen Muriel I - was to hand over the crown tonight to a new queen.

Smith has been coming to Vinegar Hill for the past 22 years.

He said Vinegar Hill was a place where everyone could be accepted, have fun and meet new friends.

It was not always a bundle of laughs though.

Police attended three incidents of disorder at the camp this year.

"We get the odd few who decide they don't like us being here," Smith said.

He was quick to stress that it was never people from the Hunterville area, who love the campers and the business they provide.

But every now and then a stray camper from the other end of camp drove through their end and hurled a bit of abuse.

"The straight end of the camp cause problems at times," Smith said. "But the local police are really helpful, they have extra patrols and do drive bys a couple of times a day."

The strength of numbers - about 1800 people in total - tended to discourage abuse. "Now that we are full they keep away."

When the Manawatu Standard visited the "camp camp" yesterday the concerns were few and far between.

One person, who asked not to be named, said the camp was "a little sad" this year because there had been a divorce.

But like many others Steve Johnson was not perturbed, spending his day playing ten-pin bowls on his rainbow-coloured makeshift bowling alley.

His neighbour, Wayne Smith, was watching him.

He said he had come back to Vinegar Hill this year for the first time in 20 years.

"I had open-heart surgery in March this year.

"It changed me a bit, made me realise I have got to do things like this."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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