|Horsey Frolics in Vanuatu !!|
A group of New Zealand Kiwanians enter into the fun and games of the 1998 Port Vila Kiwanis Club "Horse Race Weekend"
The Port Vila Kiwanis Club is a little known and often overlooked club within the New Zealand - South Pacific District due to its remoteness, yet it is one of our biggest clubs in membership terms and definitely one of the more active. They really know how to have fun and help their community up there in a big way.
|The most major project of the Port Vila Club and one which they have been organizing for 17 or 18 years now is the Vanuatu Independence Horse Race Weekend. Run in mid July, just before the independence day commemoration, the project consists of several events. Firstly there is a gala society ball, then a Calcutta Night and the activity culminates in a colorful race meeting day. Its all that much more special because there are no other horse race meetings in Vanuatu. Traditionally Kiwanis has netted some 1.5m Vatu or approximately NZ$25,000 from this combined project.||
In July, 1998, nine Kiwanians from Hamilton and Auckland clubs went up
to sample the fun and the atmosphere of the occasion and help where
they could. Not going empty handed they took some 200kg of excess
baggage in the form of over 300 used school uniforms and several
boxes of used school books. One day amidst the activities, the New
Zealand contingent hired a minibus and went around the island of
Efate (on which Vila is situated) and distributed these items to
five village schools. There is a crying need for literally
everything in the isolated villages and the looks, words and songs
of appreciation from the children and village elders made it most
worthwhile. In fact you couldn't do the distribution run without
getting a knot in the stomach and a memory engraved in your mind
Copious quantities of lollipops were also taken on the trip around the island and handed out the bus window to all the pikininnies found walking along the roadside. Some members of the group took this exercise to masterly proportions!
We also visited one kindergarten/school in Port Vila itself and
were thrilled to give pupils and teachers there news of Erica Wing,
the young girl from Vanuatu who has been receiving hospital
treatment at the Starship Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand.
Kiwanis gave financial assistance for the treatment of the girl
late last year.
The ball was clearly a highlight of the Vanuatu social calendar. It was a masked ball held in grand ball style at the Le Meridian Resort. Supported by a most versatile band from New Zealand it went on into the early hours and was a great success. It set the scene for the other events to follow.
The following night, the Port Vila Club ran a Calcutta Night at a local restaurant right on the waterfront. The view would have been a fine panorama of Vila Harbor except for the fact that the rain had set in. Many locals, and a number of Australians including a large syndicate from Newcastle, still attended despite the rain and the bidding ran high in the auction of the horses. 101,000 Vatu (NZ$1,700) was the highest price paid for a horse - so this was where the big money was raised even before the betting started. The winning horse was drawn out of a hat secretly and then a professional commentator from Australia who had come over especially for the weekend called the race (telling a few jokes down the back straight) ensuring the right horse won. Shouts of joy and some of anguish followed but a good night was had by all.
Next morning we learned that overnight the restaurant safe had been stolen - complete with all the Kiwanis takings from the Calcutta Night! A reward of 125,000 Vatu (NZ$2,000) was posted by sponsors and broadcast over the speaker system at the race day to encourage the culprits to be identified. They may have difficulty getting their hands on the money inside the safe, however, as an oxyacetalene cutting torch would probably be needed to open the safe and not many of these abound in Vanuatu.
|So to the race day. In the weeks preceding the day Kiwanis had organized the cutting of the track at a private ranch at Mele Bay just on the fringe of town. They had to shift a native house in the process this year I believe. Numerous stalls were set up from which food and drink was dispensed. Several sponsors set up marquees: Fosters (an Australian brewer) was popular. Virtually everything was built of bamboo. The horses came from riding clubs and various farms over the island - some had raced on previous race days and some were new to the experience. Form was therefore important. The jockeys were local people, several girls included and their form was of even greater significance. The stewards were imported from Australia. The judges were from the local Kiwanis club.|
Most of the population of Vila turned out for the day creating a colorful carnival atmosphere. Free buses were provided from the town. The best dressed on the field were judged and the competition was strong in all classes. At times you could be excused for thinking you were at Ascot - except for all the pidgin as distinct from proper English being spoken around you; that and the quality of the toilets. The only thing of the day that was not generous was the odds and your author was not seen at the back of the tote all day! Perhaps Kiwanis was making up for the stolen proceeds of the night before.
Sunday morning was clean up time and typical of many club activities everywhere it seemed to fall to a hardworking few to see it through. Plus of course a 100% turnout of the New Zealand visitors! We were sent off around the track to take down the bamboo railings on the side of the track. It didn't take long to see why we were given that job. The biggest and hairiest spiders you ever saw had settled into the bamboo posts but came out on the run as we lifted the poles out.
The entire project was a major feat of organization by Kiwanis. It would be as big as any project I have seen at home in New Zealand. The sponsor support was wonderful. Full credit must go to all those who organized the weekend of events, led I believe by the notorious Port Vila Club member, Captain Claes. The whole occasion was memorable to the visitors and can be recommended as a wonderful feature to center a vacation to Vanuatu around. Contact the local Port Vila Club for details of next year's horse race weekend.
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