Issue 6: Festival of the Winds

Sydney, Australia – September 4-6, 1998

Each year, in early September, Antipodean kite flyers’ thoughts turn to Sydney, Australia. Spring is breaking through in the southern hemisphere, dark clouds are rolling away, and the winter winds are turning into spring breezes. What better place to break out the fruits of the winter workshop than on the spectacular sands of Sydney’s Bondi Beach. Festival Of The Winds is an annual event staged by the Australian Kiteflyers Society and this year’s event was the 21st. Time for a party!

Flyers from around Australia and New Zealand started arriving on Thursday, traditionally a day to settle into hotels and catch up with friends. The main topic of conversation this year was the weather forecast. Rain was promised for Friday, storms for Saturday, with the weather clearing on Sunday – things looked a bit grim. And without Shakib Gunn’s magic to ward away the dark, heavy clouds, all we could do was keep our fingers crossed or pray.

The view from the hotel window overlooking the beach on Friday morning was bleak. Rain was falling and showed no signs of abating. But as we all gathered in a local cafe for breakfast, the rain stopped. The dark clouds still dominated the sky, but for the moment, they held on to their cargo. Off to the beach to see what we could make of the day. Friday was a casual day, with most people fine tuning their latest creations and showing off to the media.

The winds on the beach were fresh northerlies, coming in from over the land. A bit turbulent, this meant kites had to be watched to ensure they behaved, and sand anchors had to be well spaced. Nevertheless, plenty of kites took to the sky, providing a colourful contrast to the grey overhead. But how long would the rain stay away? Greg Mennie and Chris Brent (two of the local flyers), used local knowledge to predict that further rain was imminent, so they changed into their wet suits, and hit the surf. The rest of us weren’t convinced. So it was out with more kites and watch the sky carefully. By lunch time, we felt vindicated. Greg and Chris were the wettest ones there, and even they decided it was time give up splashing about and try out some kites.

Hmmm….bad move.The rain struck with a vengeance. Most kites were pulled down before the squall hit, but the beach was soon littered with people hiding under kites, trying to escape the deluge. Rokkaku owners certainly appreciated the large expanses of ripstop they could huddle under, but box kite owners just got wet. The downpour was fairly brief and the darker clouds disappeared, but there were a lot of wet kites (and kite flyers) around.

AKS president, Godfrey Gamble, announced that a TV crew was due to arrive to take footage, so a few of us decided to dry our kites in the sky, rather than pack them away wet and sandy. The rest of the afternoon was spent putting kites up and dragging them down at the first sign of dark clouds. By mid afternoon, most people had packed up hoping that the weather would be kinder on Saturday. A few diehards continued. The wind picked up, so with the beach a bit less cluttered it was out with the vented sports kites! And we had a ball, showing off to each other. Trouble is, when you are showing off that much, you pay less attention to what is approaching from behind. At 4 o’clock, we were totally unprepared when the skies opened yet again. Time to grab everything and run. There were a lot of sandy, wet kites drying in hotel rooms that night!

Friday night is workshop night at Festival of the Winds, but this year it was also Greg Mennie’s buck’s night. So half of us started at the Bondi hotel, before sampling some of Sydney’s colourful King’s Cross nightlife, while others were treated to a fascinating workshop making traditional Malaysian waus. The AKS were fortunate enough to have ‘Haj’ Abdul Kasmin from Malaysia as a guest this year, and each workshop participant was given a ready made wau frame to bridle, cover and decorate. This style of workshop is great fun. Everyone gets a chance to experience a style of kitemaking they may not otherwise encounter, and learn from master craftsmen. There were some exquisitely handcrafted wau on display, which not only looked beautiful, but as we were to see over the weekend made a wonderful addition to the Bondi sky.

Saturday dawned cool, calm and almost cloudless. After a quick breakfast at what had become Cafe FOTW, it was over to the beach to make use of whatever sunshine we could get. After all, there was no guarantee it would last. But the weather soon became a much less important topic of conversation. The buzz on the beach was that Godfrey Gamble and Karen O’Connor had skipped breakfast at the cafe, and instead had got married! Well done, guys! A huge congratulations from us all.

The main event on Saturday was the Member’s Choice competition, and with a trip to New Zealand to be won, everyone was keen to give their latest creations as much air time as possible. Voting for this award is by all club members, and as the day wore on, the good natured lobbying intensified.

As per usual, the West Australian contingent had a fine array of new designs, David Bull with his award winning Owl kite, Gail Wilmer with a stunning della porta appliqued with an elephant’s head, and husband Ray Wilmer with a new abstract, asymmetric design. South Australian Linda Sanders showed off her work with an exquisitely appliqued Mermaid and Dolphins creation, while another strong contender was Victorian entrant Vikki Clarke with a finely decorated Celtic cross. But in a field where the standard was extremely high, the overall winner, with a very popular Frill Neck Lizard was New South Welshman Ross Leighton. Things certainly looked promising for the following day’s competitons!

The fine, but cool weather held for most of the day. By the time the rain arrived late in the afternoon, everyone was already packing away, and heading off to freshen up for the Festival dinner and auction.

First event of the evening, was the indoor kite judging. All early registrants for this year’s festival were given a small winder and line, plus a length of plastic tail. They were then invited to make a kite from anything they could find at Bondi to fill the gap between the provided line and tail. And it had to fly at the festival dinner! By the time judging commenced, there was a stunning array of bits and pieces, but no-one was quite sure if any would fly. Circoflexes circled, pocket sleds pirrhouetted, and rokkakus rocketed around the room with varying degrees of success. The irrepressible John Murray even proved that a well designed wave kite could waft around at no more than walking pace, but the winner, was a miniature flowform made from a shopping bag.

The post dinner auction was a great success, thanks in no small part to the efforts of auctioneer Godfrey, and his trusty band of tin rattling helpers. Mind you, rumours of a possible big buy up of items, bankrolled by Ann and Peter Whitehead turned out to be greatly exaggerated. Just as well for the rest of us!

Sunday morning proved that you can never trust a weather man. It was a warm, cloudless morning, and as long as the wind behaved, it looked as though it would be a perfect festival day. The breeze started off gently, coming from off the land, but it soon changed direction and strength. This was to be the pattern for the rest of the day, but for the most part there was always some wind to fly in. Spectators arrived in their thousands, so the emphasis was on crowd entertainment. Theme ascensions were held throughout the day, so you could see a sky full of Rokkaku, or kites with animal themes, or cellular kites, or whatever other theme was on at the time. Each session was enhanced by the entertaining commentary from compere Di Delli Paoli. Is there anything about kite history Di doesn’t know?

The entertainment wasn’t limited to the single line flyers either. Bob Dawson and Phil McConnachie put on a show with their newly developed dual line traction deltas. The sight of two guys leaning back at 45 degrees, their feet creeping across the sand, while flying an impromptu pairs routine using 18 foot wingspan Ospreys was quite spectacular.

The day wore on, and just when the flyers were all starting to take things easy, a news crew from one of the national television networks arrived. An hour or so of footage and a large number of interviews later, we were just hopeful our efforts wouldn’t be classified “archive material only”. Later that evening, we got our reward. Nearly two minutes of story shown nationally on both the early evening, and late evening news services. Should’ve brushed my hair!

Judging for the kite making categories proceeded throughout the day, with a large number of makers vying for the prizes on offer. With a $2000 sewing machine donated by Bernina for 2nd place and a trip for 2 to Malaysia, courtesy of Malaysian airlines for the winner, interest in the Best Homemade Kite category was high. West Australian Gail Wilmer was rewarded for her fine efforts with second prize, while her husband Ray won Best Homemade Kite for the second time in 3 years. Well done!

Ray and Rosemary McCully won the President’s Choice award for their Roller and Genki both of which flew throughout the festival.

The Bernina encouragement award went to Vikki Clarke for her Celtic Cross while my own efforts gave me a win in the Best Newspaper Kite category.

Sadly, the end of the judging and announcing of the awards, also signalled the end of the day. Almost on cue, the wind eased and died. Kites floated back to earth, and we slowly packed our gear away. For some, it was back to the hotel, for others it was time to head home.

It’s never easy leaving at the end of a festival. There are so many great people to thank and say goodbye to. But you get to take a healthy dose of friendship and enthusiasm with you. And there are all those new ideas you want to try out for next time. And that makes it that little bit easier, because there’s always a kite festival…somewhere.