It all started over a couple of beers between a few locals in 2007.
The idea was for us to have some fun in the winter time and in doing so generate some business during the quietest time of the year. Having planted the seed we threw the idea backwards and forwards between us, nurtured it over a week or so until it took hold and then, I can still see them now, Pania and Phil got together at the end of the wharf and with much talk (ninety to the dozen at least), arms being waved all over the place drawing imaginary scenes and a hum of excitement the idea well and truly blossomed. Within a day we had gone from convincing a few local characters to jump off the wharf to a week long winter festival!!!
With all this in mind we gathered our thoughts, streamlined our ideas, decided to concentrate on one really fabulous fun day and went to talk those who would be the ones to make it happen – the local community. We still continually remind ourselves of how lucky we are that we live in such an amazing place where the community really gets together and supports one another – however crazy the idea! Once we knew we had the support we got semi-serious and set a date, that’s when the lists started, logistics, safety, sponsors, volunteers and much, much more. Right from the start we made a strong team, each with our own unique point of view, balancing each other well – especially in that first year when there was no limit to the realms of possibility, before we truly realized we could fit only so much into a day!
As the date got closer and momentum really started to pick up, flyers and posters were sent out far and wide. More FM gave us fantastic radio coverage plus weekly interviews leading up to the day. Prizes were allocated for all the events and volunteers roped in to help on the day. It was all go until we focused on the entry packs…and realized with a week to go we still only had one firm entry in the actual Birdman jump! Needless to say ‘gentle’ pressure was applied to family, friends and any other likely candidates. Russell being Russell and all being very laid back it wasn’t until the day before the event that we had an incredible twenty entries – twenty-one on the day itself!
I think I can truly say the day exceeded all our expectations – a hundred times over. The weather was incredible, the crowds quite literally filled the ferries to overflow, the events throughout the day were exactly what they were designed to be, great fun for all. And the actual Birdman jump, we simply couldn’t have asked for a funnier, more diverse, absolutely stunning range of competitors than those who so bravely presented themselves. We knew when we heard excited chatter about what people would be entering as next year we had pulled the day off well!
Now into our 10th year we are proud to announce that we are a registered Trust in place to benefit pupils of the Russell Primary School.
The Festival is now run over four days and the long term plan is to grow the festival into a weeklong event during the July school holiday period and the Trust now has both Far North District and professional marketing and event management support.
The Birdman Charitable Trust party in March of each year is our major source of fundraising to assist with the running of the event and, more importantly, to fund scholarships that are awarded to deserving students each year.
Once again this year we are privileged to have the support of the Bay of Islands community – thank you for letting us bring it all to life!
The Original Russell Birdman Team:
Toni and Phil Ball, Bridget Hughes, Pania Sigley, Pete Stuart, Gary Hoosen, joined later by Ed Ackman