Bloom and grow
28 March 2002

A blossom is a temporary thing. That's part of its charm. But there's nothing fleeting or fragile about the sort of community spirit that goes into the annual Alexandra Blossom Festival, The Southland Times writes in an editorial.

It is a tribute to the constancy of the community that the festival has taken place 45 times and that none of the recent knockbacks are going to get in the way of this year's event. Nobody should be surprised that the divisions and disputes of recent months, considerable though they were, have been set aside, at least to the extent that when spring arrives in the south, so too will this year's festival. It was far too important to give up on.

Central Otago District Mayor Malcolm Macpherson noted earlier this month that Alexandra specialises in big, boisterous, noisy, drag 'em down and knock 'em out public debates. Such a one arose when the Alexandra and District Promotions Group redefined its role, making redundant its manager, Martin McPherson, who had a key role co-ordinating the festival. The group also stepped away from organisational involvement with the festival.

That left the Blossom Festival Committee – an enthusiastic but scarcely professionally resourced group of volunteers– and the Alexandra Community Board, with a problem on their hands. They have come through.

This week, the committee announced the appointment of Alice Taylor, of Blenheim, a former operations manager of the Vancouver Fringe Festival, to co-ordinate this year's festival. Ms Taylor is likely to find that Central Otago is beyond the fringe.

Among those nodding approval at the confirmation that the festival is to proceed is the major sponsor. That would be us. The Southland Times sees the festival as important for the region, not only for the thousands of visitors it brings to the town – the population of about 4800 swells to about 12,000 to 20,000 – but for the opportunity it gives the locals to celebrate their own district and their own talents. This is not to say it has been easy. Loutism has intruded, to the extent that it was one of the events our members of Parliament had in mind when they pushed through badly flawed legislation last December with the intent of empowering local authorities to ban alcohol consumption in trouble spots.

The good news is that that it certainly does that. The bad news is that the new law was misworded to the extent that it pretty much bans the public carrying of alcohol anywhere. While that mistake must be addressed, the fact remains that come this year's festival the local authority and the police will be better placed to control the hedonistic excesses of some who come to do little more than drink.

Most would agree that the tone of the blossom festival has developed from that of an A & P or carnival atmosphere, to something with more of a wine and food festival. It is certainly more than an exercise in floatmaking, as evidenced by the decision to approach Otago University to undertake a survey for the festival, as part of the process of constant reassessment.

However, the essential character of the festival, celebratory and convivial, must continue. And as it does, The Southland Times will be delighted to continue to provide the extended coverage that it deserves because of its importance to Central Otago and the entire southern region.

Autumn is here and with it the Warbirds over Wanaka. The Bluff Oyster and Southland Seafood Festival and the Queenstown Winter Festival lie ahead to help see us through the colder months. Come spring, though, we all look to the Alexandra Blossom Festival. It remains a natural part of the cultural calendar.

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