The race day turned out to be a still, deep blue and beaming day atop Bald Hill, Stanwell Park, north of Wollongong in NSW. Action kicked off at noon, with families arriving to lay out picnics and study the form guide. Soup, pigeon nibbles and champagne were served by Red Room assistant Tamryn Bennett, while the race caller Murray “Muzza” Hartin entertained punters with commentary and a poem of his own. Six of the eight poets read their poems live to a silent audience, their words drifting off over the cliffs and sunburnt faces. The two absent poets, Melbourne’s Craig Sherborne and Sydney’s Andy Quan, were represented by Murray Hartin and Berndt Selheim.
When the race began at 1pm, the anticipation mounted. The birds were released five minutes apart, and each accompanied by a pair of pacer pigeons that help to speed and guide the racer back to the loft. Regular calls were made to cameraman Andrew Garrick back at the loft, for reports on who was clocking in and when. Worries about two errant birds, Shadow and the pigeon cam carrier, were dulled by the appearance of the race trophies on the stage. Crafted by Newtown artist Anna-Wili Highfield, this pair of sculptures were made from paper and wire under glass.
At last, at around 2pm, the crowd was ready to rank the flying times and pray that the missing birds would come in before sundown. Jimbala had clocked in with her speedy time quite early, but we had to be sure that Smokey and the later birds had not returned with anything faster. Garrick and breeder Davison called in with the results:
Jimbala – 15m 16s
Smokey – 15m 27s
The Baron 16m 8s
Newsflash – 16m 9s
Splash – 20m 10s
Real Radio – 22m 34s
Old Man Time – 48m 40s
Shadow – late return, 04/08/08 at 11am – 22h 1m 0s
Cam Pigeon – Missing – see Missing Pigeon Unit for details
Ivy Ireland, a 28 year-old lecturer and PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle, and sometime magician’s assistant, was the glorious winner of the inaugural Pigeon Poetry championship. Ireland’s poem “Velocity” was first home – courtesy of Jimbala the silver blue bar pigeon hen – in the 20km race along the NSW South Coast to determine the fastest verse in the nation. Jimbala, carrying Ireland’s poem about the exploits of a famous World War II carrier pigeon attached to one of its feet, flew the distance in a near record time of 15.22 minutes – overcoming winds gusts and lurking falcons.
In second place was Smokey, carrying “A word from the feral pigeon” by Sydney’s Andy Quan. It was followed by Hawkesbury River’s Robert Adamson, whose poem “My Grandfather’s Ice Pigeons,” soared home in 16.08 minutes on the wings of mealy cock The Baron.
Coming in fourth was Tasmania’s Anthony Lawrence with his poem “A Sound for Leaving” on the strength of a finishing time of 16.09 by blue chequer cock AAP Newsflash.
“Bets” on the Pigeon Poetry race were made free online, and by tax-deductible donation on the race day. Over 300 “bets” were laid on the race in total, with the line to the bookie on race day snaking into the distance! Punters were then entered into a sweep. Those who had placed their bets on the winning bird, Jimbala, and its poet Ivy Ireland and her poem “Velocity”, had put themselves in the running to for the major prizes! Plenty of punters seemed to have a good feeling about Jimbala, who was a real favourite of the field on the day. Two members of the audience were called on to pluck the sweep winners: Alan Kerr took home the Sweep Winner – Pigeon Poetry Race trophy, and Graham Cassidy nabbed the poem pack!
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