Part 1 of midwinters celebrations at Macquarie Island include haggis throwing and the annual dog race.

Macca haggis hurling competition

The great haggis hurling competition took place in the station courtyard.

Hurling organisers decided to forego the wind assist rule and allowed the haggis-hurl to proceed, despite the gale force winds and driving snow pellets. The bucket of haggises was carried into the courtyard by Dean in full kiltish regalia, ably piped along by Billie, similarly attired. Assistant Tom was clad in a rather large sporran. Contestants mounted the mock half-barrel after selecting their haggis. Some accepted a wee dram of the fortifying kind before taking aim.

The skill of haggis hurling, or lack thereof, was evident in the examples of hook-hurl or shank-hurl. Luckily there was no example of behind-the-barrel-hurl. We even had an example of on-the-roof-hurl whereby a haggis ended up on Hass House roof.

The contestants were coerced, taunted, cajoled and intimidated by the trio of men in skirts. This good natured banter ensured optimal haggis hurling. It was a noisy affair with spirited calling out of the distance hurled, amid cheers of encouragement from the crowd.

Unofficial winner was Aaron - not in a kilt — who hurled a slightly undersized haggis across the courtyard almost into Garden Cove. Judges are withholding this result pending the appeal process.

Full environmental cleanup took place at the end of proceedings. 

The annual dog race — form guide

Nick “The Grip” McCabe: Dog training stock from Aotearoa, and originating from the heartland town of Fairlie, this racing kennel would be worth a bet on the quality of his mullet alone. Mongrel is what the kennels of ‘The Grip’ bring to the arena today. Years of experience fighting fires and wrestling beasts, McCabe is likely to employ down and dirty tactics to secure the win.

Wags or “The Mangu Kuri”: Black Labrador; b. 2008; 31 kgs. Big, bouncy and renowned for his vertical spring and his intelligence. Nominated multiple times for the Nobel prize in chemistry early in his career in regards to work on the development of superconductors in absolute zero temperatures, Wags gave it all up for a life in the hills chasing rabbits. The glory of a win today would make it all worthwhile.

Nancye Williams:  Back in 2013 after a glory run in 2011 with winning entry Finn, but embarrassment at her other charge Katie failing get off the line in the same event, left her needing to leave the island on extended publicity tours in relation to Finn’s win and simultaneously conduct some soul searching in terms of ‘just what went wrong with racing dog Katie’. A new fitness regime including sideways star jumps and other freestyle dance moves have left Rico in the best shape of his career. 

Katie the Slayer: Springer Spaniel; b. 2007; 18kgs. Be afraid, be very afraid. Slayer will be wired for a win. Short of stature and sporting the undercut, this buzzy-magnet will be hard to touch come race day. A sure bet, though bad form in the two previous years has had bookmakers in trouble.

Rico: Golden Lab; b. 2007; 34kg. This year he is focused and will come out of his kennel revealing a sleek new racing trim, having lost 4kgs since last year’s event. His lumbering gait has been remodelled at the Macquarie Island institute of technical dog racing where he has adapted a new stride, modelled on that of a gazelle, albeit with a slightly exaggerated hip wobble. Friendly to a fault, but it should be cautioned that he will swallow you whole if you smell like food.

Billy the Welshman: A newcomer to the MI racing scene, Billy has said a lot since he arrived regarding the prowess of his dog racing background (we think), but to date no one has been able to understand a word of it. Unfortunately his dogs don’t speak Welsh either and as a result pre-race training has been hampered by confusion between the commands sit and go, obviously a slight concern for backers of this kennel’s entries.

The Joker: Springer Spaniel; b. 2008; 21kgs. Joker is one of the youngest racers today and his punk attitude has caused him problems in the past. Trouble in his early days with the cops and the youth court system, Joker has rehabilitated somewhat through the revolutionary “Sit close to a penguin therapy” and now displays a coolness and spring in his step like that of his trainer. A close second to Ash in 2012, he is a hot contender on the start line.

Colin: Springer Spaniel, b.2008; 23 kgs Expected to be a strong runner but no-one is sure as to which direction that will be in. A fine bet for those who like to gamble as this rank outsider has the wheels and energy to burn. Focus is the issue that Billy has been working on this year. Possibly not expected to pass the drugs test, a cloud lies over him currently with accusations of dependency on concentrated beverages of raspberry cordial.

Kaz Fireant Andrew: Kaz has set her sights firmly back to back wins after the glory of winning the 2012 race with underdog Ash. Known to go to extreme lengths to maintain the secrecy of her training tactics, Kaz converses with her dogs at a vocal pitch far above the audible range of most humans. Conveniently, the dog team leader is running the winning dogs from the last two year’s events, a coincidence that has been labelled as “unscrupulous” by one jilted rival.

Mr Finnegan: Golden Lab; b. 2008; 36 kgs. With the gait of a giraffe and the swagger of John Wayne, Finn is a contender in 2013 and cool under pressure. Former champion in 2011, Finn was overcome by the publicity received as a result, fame which went to his head. Recovering from the embarrassment of losing to his kennel mate Ash in 2012, Finn will hopefully be more focused this year.  

ASH Rainman Springer: Springer Spaniel; b. 2005; 23kgs. Ash is a misunderstood individual, a gifted genius who comes across slightly deranged at times. He studied physics at uni and now applies his knowledge of centrifugal force to the conduct of his daily constitutional. Surprisingly Ash is also the defending champion and has spent most of his time this year on a public tour speaking about his win. A lot is at stake for Ash in 2013.

Steve “Supreme Leader” Horn: Born in Invercargill he has automatic respect amongst peers due to this fact alone. This year he is back with Flaximus Prime, Frax or simply “The Flax”. It has been said through media sources for the authoritarian leader of the MIPEP state, that the supreme leader is fairly certain that Flax will win easily. Reports also mention (for general information purposes) that there is a lot of thick tussock and heavy cabbage left to be hunted out there. The odds are expected to be short on this golden lab.

Flaximus Prime: Golden Rabrador; b. 2007; 33 kgs. Despite the guide dog appearance, Flaximus has already spent time inside this year for knocking defending champ Ash’s teeth out over an altercation that was believed to have started after Ash stole food from Flax’s bowl. Watch as Flaximus transforms at the start line as he drops his friendly dog persona.

Angel “The Rat Girl” Newport:  Angel has the smallest quantity of dog flesh involved in the dog racing event. A far north New Zealander, Newport displays a disarming smile, and has been prominent in the Bay 11 dog racing scene since she could handle a lead. It is believed that cohorts of the northland fraternity will be loading cash on her charge today so look for heavy fluctuations on the odds on Cody. Her secret training tool is believed to be the Arnott’s Tim Tam.

Cody: Border Terrier/Fox Terrier Cross; b. 2010; 9kg. This reassured little rat dog will tackle the largest of the competitors — he is only grumpy because ‘he cares’ is his catch-cry. Look out for this unknown quantity as a big contender come race day.

Leona “The Boss” Plaisier: The youngest Dog racing trainer on the scene across the subantarctic, The Boss is not a contender to be taken lightly. Known as the best baker of sweets and biscuits in the MIPEP team, Leona is in one tough mother with a couple of tiny dogs.

Bail: Border Terrier/Fox Terrier Cross; b. 2011; 10kg. Bail the playful, happy-go-lucky member of the rat team, he loves being shouted at and is the owner of a goldfish level memory. Bail doesn’t mind checking and rechecking the same rock stack over and over again — it’s all new country to him.Border Terrier/Fox Terrier Cross; b. 2011; 10kg. Bail the playful, happy-go-lucky member of the rat team, he loves being shouted at and is the owner of a goldfish level memory. Bail doesn’t mind checking and rechecking the same rock stack over and over again – it’s all new country to him.

Late Scratching:

Chase: Border Terrier/Fox Terrier; b. 2009; 7.5kg. Chase, has been scratched late in the build up to this race due to repeated violations of the code of racing dog conduct in the past week. Charges against Chase include unsolicited flirting and inappropriate advances on a number of the male dogs in contention for this prestigious event.  

The race that stops an island

Macquarie Island’s finest racing hounds and their handlers made a grand appearance at midwinter celebrations last weekend.

A total of ten rabbit-hunting labradors and springer spaniels, and this year’s addition of two rodent detection terriers, were led through ‘Market Square’ by their suitably ridiculous-looking handlers in a run-up to the prestigious dog race. (see previous story)

Unfortunately one dog could not attend the event. Chase the rodent detection terrier was a late scratching after it was decided that having a bitch in season at the race course would be detrimental to racing chances — or any chance of having a race.

The sun was out for the announcements and introductions of the racing teams, but it was not to last.

Just as the the teams were set ready to go on the start mark, a blizzard blew in rather forcefully. Snow and wind sweeping over the isthmus, the dogs and handlers were forced to wait it out by taking shelter at the comms building.

We waited for quite some time, getting rather numb with the cold at this stage in our ridiculous outfits, which included a cockroach and a Borat-style swimsuit. The bad weather did not subside, and it was decided the audience waiting on the other side were probably getting cold as well, so the dogs were made to wait in the shelter of the building — the new start line.

The handlers made their way to the the finish line near the gate alongside the fire hut. They lined up in readiness for calling their dogs. There was a tense silence as everyone waited a moment, the dogs hardly visible on the other side. Go! There was an ear-piercing noise as all seven handlers whistled and screamed their dogs’ names as loud as humanly possible! 


Steve takes up the commentary:

The crowds on Macquarie Island went quiet, dogs sat poised in a straight line and the snow fell hard as a piercing whistle signalled the start of the annual Macquarie Island dog race.

Sweat beaded down the forehead of those with a stake in the race as the dogs leapt into life, well most of them at least. Rodent dog Cody remained behind at the start line sheltering under the porch of the communications building out of the wintery blast that was passing.

Race caller Dean Richards swung into action and the leading dogs ripped up the 300m course blazing through the blizzard-like conditions on the track on their way to glory. Colin the springer leapt to an early lead with Wags, Flax and Bail close behind and Ash coming up hard on the outside. The dogs excitedly arrived at the finish line into the arms of their screaming handlers and the echo of the race caller’s microphone singing their individual virtues.

A neck and neck finish between Colin and Wags is still being disputed, a lack of focussed pictures at the finish line due to the inclement weather added to the confusion. The crowds celebrated, the dogs bounced and race caller Dean carried on commentating to himself in the snow for the next five minutes.

After several days scrutinising the photos, a video of the event (taken by Aaron) turned up and confirmed the results.

Congratulations to the judged winners:

First — Colin from Billy the Welshman's stable (newcomer to Macquarie Island racing)

Second — Wags “The Mangu Kuri” from the stable of the experienced Nick “The Grip” McCabe

Third — “Flaximus Prime” out of the stables of Steve “Supreme Leader” Horn

The elusive 4th met member

What is not commonly known around station is that there is actually an elusive 4th member of the meteorology team here on Macquarie Island. He works the graveyard shift and, through his diligence and hard work, the met office keeps ticking along nicely. He has rarely been seen since resupply and even the other met staff don’t know him that well.

So, on midwinters, being the special occasion that it is here on Macquarie Island, Bernard was convinced to make a special cameo appearance to the rest of the station.

He would not shunt his usual work requirements, such is his dedication to the job, so he agreed that we could meet him as he prepared to start his day.

The following pictures depict Bernard as he has his breakfast, cleans himself up and heads off to work. I could try to explain the hilarity that was expressed by all who saw him, but a picture can say a thousand words and better explain it than I ever could.

Bernard is the alter ego of Barry Becker, also the on-the-ground station news editor on Macquarie Island.