I am a hairy model amid modern glam millennials
Sometimes as a mayor you have to go outside of your comfort zone – and strutting down a catwalk sure does that for me.
The excitement and drama of the Hokonui Fashion and Design Awards compounded for me in the lead up, hobbling around the council office after turning my ankle during a visit to Stewart Island the week before.
Would it be okay on the night? Fortunately, my fellow mayors, Gore District's Tracy Hicks and Invercargill's Tim Shadbolt, helped mask any ill-effects of my dodgy ankle with their dazzling performances.
At the practice, we held an in-depth forum about which was the right way to make our entrance, and then formed a sub-committee to decide who should go down the catwalk first.
And then it was time for the great reveal as the three "Geisha Girls", complete with painted toenails, gave the packed room an excellent excuse to be entertained.
There were cat whistles, yelling and kind-hearted comments as we twirled, gestured, winked and nodded our way along the narrow stage.
We got to do two runs, one with jacket on, and the second with jackets off.
That's when the crowd went wild – we were pleased to be out of reach of those in the front seats.
The true stars of the occasion are of course the amazing designers whose work shows our region can foot it with the best in the fashion stakes.
In particular, I'd like to congratulate Abbey McMaster, of Winton, who won the Young Designer award, for her entry in the Nightlife section.
It just goes to show we're a very cultural bunch in Southland – and further proof of that was the major funding announcement for the Rakiura Heritage Centre earlier in late July.
The Government's $1.08 million contribution to the centre's fundraising means the $3.6 million total has been achieved. Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Maggie Barry's interest in the project, and the island in general, was pleasing to see.
It's been a mammoth effort for trust chair Margaret Hopkins, her trustees and others associated with the project during the past 15 years, and I'd like to acknowledge the grit and determination shown to get the project to this point.
The generosity shown by the New Zealand Fire Service, which has made the land for the new heritage centre available at minimal cost, is immense, and an important part in the plan coming to fruition.
An all-weather visitor attraction is significant as it will further strengthen the island's place as a must-see destination for both New Zealanders and visitors from all around the world.
It will be located next to the DOC visitor centre and act as a real hub for visitors to the island.
The museum's collection is estimated to number about 10,000 items ranging from natural history specimens through to precious fragments of human habitation on the island, with some hundreds of years old.
At the moment only about 5 per cent of the collection is able to be displayed. The trust reckons the new space will allow 30 to 50 per cent to be on permanent display, while the new collection storage space will allow for future collection growth.
I was delighted to hear the centre will feature an AV theatre for school and other group visits. Margaret told those gathered for the announcement that a couple of weeks prior they had squeezed in a school group of more than 30 into the existing museum's tiny meeting space.
Minister Barry gave an update on the Government's Predator Free 2050 work and it reinforced that Stewart Island's biodiversity is one of its most important assets – and something that gives the island its special character.
Being able to enjoy the dawn and dusk chorus of raucous birdsong is something increasingly rare for many New Zealanders. I saw a story on the news from Northland where a school was using a Tui call for its bell – maybe in absence of the real thing being heard in the area.
It makes you realise what is at stake in the battle against predators.
A predator-free Stewart Island might seem impossible, but regardless of what the end goal is, protecting and enhancing our biodiversity has to be the aim – and who knows where predator control technology will take us?
Like any project, breaking it down into smaller pieces is the best idea.
Visitors come to listen to the birds and watch tui fly over the South Seas Hotel.
They do a double-take at Kiwi strutting through the gardens at their accommodation. We need to protect and promote the island's special character, because it is a unique in New Zealand.
After all, would you rather see a strutting kiwi, or a strutting mayor? I think I know the answer to that one.
Gary Tong is Southland District Mayor