It’s a fiercely-fought contest, a 24-hour endurance event, a significant pest control operation, and a family sporting occasion. The 25th birthday of the Great Easter Bunny Hunt is one more assault in the war against the rabbits of Central Otago—and for the Southern Hopper Stoppers, it’s also a celebration of the friendships forged on the front line.
The spotlight ranges back and forth across the paddock as though a drunken stage hand is looking for a soloist amid the lucerne. With every jolt of the truck, the oval of light wobbles. Then it pauses on a blank patch of the field.
“Yep,” shouts Lisa Moffat, holding the light steady. Finally I see it: a spark of iridescent orange, maybe a hundred metres ahead, winking between the leaves.
Ray Moffat, Lisa’s father, floors the accelerator and the Jackaroo lurches ahead, jolting and swaying down the paddock. Beside Lisa, standing above the cab, her partner, Chris Heath, and his friend Thomas ‘Proby’ Hardwick raise their shotguns.
The rabbit believes it is invisible. It is, except for the fragment glimmer of its eye. Its ears are flattened out of sight, its white belly pressed to the earth.
Ray brakes and the light swings wildly and we pitch forward against the cab, but Chris is quick to find his footing and—crack—the bunny leaps from its hiding place and sprints, barely touching the ground. “Get him, get him,” shouts Ray, swerving to chase it.
Crack, crack, crack. “Oh, for f*ck’s sake,” mumbles Lisa, and reaches for her gun. Crack. The rabbit tumbles and rolls, coming to a stop on its side, back legs twitching.
“His time’s up,” cackles Ray, and leaps out of the cab to fetch it. He’s a connoisseur of marksmanship, and he feels the same way about a difficult shot as other people do about pinot noir, or arias by Puccini.
Later, back at the woolshed, Ray will tell the story of this rabbit, how the boys missed and Lisa got fed up and fired one true shot. She’s a Moffat through and through.
For now, he swings the rabbit by its legs into the back of the truck, where I am standing on a crate of ammunition amid a sea of dead rabbits. Soon my feet will be submerged.
We roar into the next paddock and the light begins its search again, sweeping side to side. Everything is gradations of grey: the lucerne and the matagouri and Lisa’s blonde hair and the bodies of the rabbits at my feet. I am sure we have been in this paddock before.
“I’d be looking for another 50 at this point,” calls out Ray from the cab below us. “Stop firing so many warning shots.”
Proby yawns. “Shut up,” says Lisa. “You’re, like, the youngest person here.”
But they barely have the energy left to mock each other. It’s about four o’clock in the morning, on the eastern flank of the Pisa Range. The moon is a watery glow behind a film of cloud. Across Lake Dunstan, and further up the range, I can see the slowly moving lights of other trucks, other teams hunting rabbits on other stations. There’s no time to stop and rest. This is a hard-fought competition, and we need 50 more rabbits.
This is Easter in Central Otago.
It began a little after dawn on Good Friday. Elsewhere in New Zealand, the rabbit has its star hour, its image reproduced over and over in chocolate and brightly coloured tinfoil. Here in Pioneer Park, Alexandra, there’s a ute decorated with cardboard rabbits punctured with bullet holes.
Central Otago’s rabbits have long been known simply as ‘the evil’. They’ve held the title of the region’s worst pest since the middle of the 19th century, maintaining it in the face of helicopter hunters, poison-laced carrots, aerial 1080 drops, rabbit-proof fences and biological warfare, in the form of a virus smuggled into the country by farmers in 1997. Every Good Friday, hundreds of hunters assemble from around the country—and the world—in an attempt to kill as many of them as possible.
Photographer Lottie Hedley and I have been assigned to one of the competition’s longest-serving teams, the Southern Hopper Stoppers. Ray Moffat, its captain, whose Beatrix Potter-ish name belies his career as a rabbit controller, has missed only two bunny hunts in the past 25 years.
Next to the ute with the bullet-riddled rabbits, I meet Kate Evans of the Blasted Bunnies, whose husband, Mike, proposed to her on the bunny hunt more than a decade ago. “We were on a station near Bannockburn and we didn’t feel like eating our dehydrated food, so we went down to Cromwell to get some fish and chips,” she recalls. “He said, ‘Well, I’ve been carrying this thing around in my pocket all day, so you might as well have it’.”
Now their kids are part of the team, too. They’re a bit young to shoot, so they’re the ‘picker-uppers’, she says.
There are four men from Sweden who heard a rumour about the bunny hunt, discovered it was true and signed up immediately. They’re easy to find, dressed in plaid shirts and waistcoats rather than digitally printed camouflage and high-vis. They’ve never shot from a moving vehicle before—that’s illegal in Sweden. In fact—Stefan Sandberg pauses to consider—most of this is illegal in Sweden. “This many people running around with guns,” he laughs. “I hope that we don’t disgrace ourselves.”
Lottie and I are also obvious outsiders, and it doesn’t take long for Ray to find us. He’s in his late 50s, slim and wiry. He’s wearing a wide-brimmed hat, glasses that have just come back into fashion after their big moment in the 1970s, a big grin.
The Hopper Stoppers are a family affair. Ray’s wife, Cheryl, captains the support crew, and their three kids are all here—Jared and Lisa shooting, Michelle on the sidelines with her one-year-old son, their only grandchild. Teams are permitted 12 shooters, and Ray divides his into four trucks: Jared’s is filled with his mates, while Ray’s old friends Andrew Lamb and Craig Irwin captain the other two. Almost all of them are from the deep south, and they lean heavily on their Rs when they speak. They’ve been shooting together for years.
“I started going to the hunt when Lisa was three,” says Ray. They’ve grown up around guns. That’s why they’re so independent, he says. He gave Jared an air rifle for his 12th birthday, Lisa a semi-automatic for her 21st. “I’ve earned my place on this team,” she laughs.
It’s tough to get a spot as a shooter on the Hopper Stoppers. Someone has to die, or move overseas, jokes Ray—except it isn’t a joke at all. One guy used to travel home every Easter from a job in Saudi Arabia, rather than give up his place.
In fact, it’s tough to get a spot on the Great Easter Bunny Hunt. The previous year’s top four teams get automatic re-entry, but the rest are chosen by lottery. This year, 38 teams applied to shoot on 28 blocks of land—and those were just the ones who got their entries in on time. “We probably get about 50 per cent more applying than we actually have places for,” says competition convener Dave Ramsay, of the Alexandra Lions Club. “There are a lot of disappointed people every year.”
The Hopper Stoppers are friendly, but cautiously so. All they know about us is that we’re two women from Auckland. Ray has been to Auckland only once, for Lisa’s commissioning at the end of her Navy training, and he probably won’t go back. We might as well be visiting from Sweden.
“When did you last win the hunt?” asks Lottie.
I can almost feel them wince. It was in 2012, four years ago.
“There’s a bit of pain in that,” she observes.
They’ve been in second place six times. They’re sick of second place.
Their main enemy is the ballot that decides which piece of land they’ll shoot on. Stations have different levels of rabbit infestation—right now, the Ida Valley is rumoured to be overrun—so all land blocks are allocated by lottery. Teams must return to Pioneer Park by noon on Saturday, giving everyone 24 hours, more or less, to bag as many bunnies as possible.
Ramsay spins the wire raffle drum, and Avalon Station, 100 kilometres away in the Cardrona Valley, is allocated to Cromwell Antipesto. They’re out of the park before the next spin winds down. Mt Brown Station goes to the Trucking Idiots, Big River Farms to the Hare-Raising Mutineers, Lochar Downs to the Blasted Bunnies.
Ray is anxious at the prospect of drawing one of the land blocks he works on. One year, Kawarau Station provided the winning tally, and after the hunt, landowner John Anderson hired Ray to finish the job. The following year, the team that drew Kawarau came last.
The ballot progresses from furthest land block to nearest, and next up are those in the rabbit-rich Ida Valley. Bonspiel Station goes to last year’s winners, Down South, and the Hopper Stoppers groan. I find myself holding my breath as Ida Valley Station goes to the East-West Bunny Boppers and Fairview Farm to the Smoking Guns.
“Lowburn area,” says Ramsay. “The Southern Hopper—”
The Hopper Stoppers are roaring with delight. It’s the same station they drew last year. Ray has already started towards the trucks on the verge of the park. As we make our way through the crowd after him, Cheryl explains that because Ray and his truck captains know the territory, they won’t need to spend time meeting the landowner and being shown the boundaries of the station. They’ve been handed an hour’s head start.
The morning is cool and grey as we pull up in front of a white woolshed, home base for the next 24 hours. Shooting trucks are unhooked from towbars or unloaded from trailers—they’re old farm vehicles, unregistered and unroadworthy, that have been improved at home for hunting from. Windscreens fold down, and there’s space behind the cab for shooters to stand, padded bars for them to hang on to, boards nailed to the sides so the rabbits in the back don’t fall out.
I’ve been assigned to Craig Irwin’s Land Rover, which was part of a fence until recently.
“It’s clean,” says Craig’s brother Brent Irwin, as I climb up and sit on the back seat, which is covered in dried bird shit. Cheryl shouts after us: “When you come back, there’s coffee and sandwiches!”
Craig is quiet and serious and deliberate, the kind of person you hope that all hunters are. He met Ray nearly 20 years ago when both worked at an MDF factory in Invercargill, and one year Ray invited him to the bunny hunt.
“I went just by myself to check it wasn’t full of crazy drunk redneck hooligans,” says Craig. “But I went along and thought, ‘Yeah, this is for us’.”
Now it’s a fixture in the Irwin family calendar. Craig’s wife, Katrina, sends a note to school a few days before Easter saying she’s pulling her girls out for a ‘family sporting event’. All three Irwin daughters can bring down a deer at 200 metres.
By day, shooting takes place on foot rather than from the truck, covering ground too steep to access on four wheels by night. We fan out across a scree slope dotted with matagouri and move forward in a line. It’s completely silent, the crunch of our footsteps muted. There’s the gentle push of a warm breeze now and again, and the green of the Clutha River valley arrayed below us, irrigated paddocks rising to tawny hills.
Nothing moves—until the moment when a rabbit breaks cover, a grey shape flashing white as it leaps, its legs extended front and back like a ballerina mid-grand jeté. My pulse races as the Irwins aim, and I only let my breath out as the shot echoes and the rabbit tumbles end-over-end down the slope.
The appeal of this is immediate and obvious—it’s difficult enough to require precise skill, unpredictable enough to be addictive.
“What’s the angle of your story?” asks Brent Irwin, and when I look up, he’s watching for my reaction. I’ve been asked this several times already and I still don’t know what to say. I’m pretty sure I know what this question is really asking: What do you think of what we do for fun? Are you going to portray us as a bunch of gun-happy hillbillies gleefully participating in bloodsport?
Earlier in the week, back in Auckland, few were thrilled to hear of my plans to spend Easter on a 300-person quest to kill as many rabbits as possible. I wish that I could teleport them to the naked, pockmarked hillside I’m standing on. It looks as though it has been strafed repeatedly, and it’s bereft of plants—just scree and dirt that the breeze occasionally picks up and shifts. A little more time under the rule of rabbits and it’ll be more dune than hill.
“This isn’t really what you picture when you think of Central Otago,” I tell Brent.
“Yeah, Grahame Sydney didn’t paint too many rabbit holes,” he says. He’s hunted on stations worse than this. “You fire a shot and the whole hillside gets up and moves.”
It took only a handful of years for Central Otago’s rabbits to transform from sport into problem.
The Acclimatisation Society of Otago released 60 bunnies in 1866, but five years later, its chairman wrote to the Otago Witness pleading for its readers to stop setting rabbits free in the high country: they were eating the land bare. “That the Society has recognised the evil of turning out rabbits is well known to all,” he wrote.
Central Otago is a rabbit paradise: warm, dry, open. Rain drowns rabbits and long grass hampers them, but the high country offers perfect breeding conditions.
Dave Ramsay says he’s seen the rabbit population move around over the span of the competition. “It was always the Tarras area that had the chronic ‘moving-hill’ syndrome,” he says. “Now it’s shifted towards the Ida Valley and back towards Roxburgh, where they never used to be.”
Increased irrigation around the rivers and up into the Mackenzie Basin has meant a reduction in rabbit numbers there, he adds. “They don’t like that country, they don’t like to have wet feet all the time. The paddock that would get 300 millimetres of rain in a year is now getting that in a week or two.”
While the Great Easter Bunny Hunt is a major strike on the population—in previous years it has removed more than 25,000 rabbits in a single day—it’s not a permanent solution, or even a particularly long-lasting one.
“It definitely knocks over a good number of rabbits,” says Scott MacLean, the Otago Regional Council’s director of environmental monitoring. “But shooting is not what you’d call a primary control tool for rabbits. You’ll take 20 per cent of the population, but after a couple of nights of shooting, the rabbits are very wary of the sound of gunshot, vehicles, any sort of movement.”
Poisoning is more effective, says MacLean, but it requires a landowner to build the rabbits’ trust. “If people are planning on doing a poison job, they don’t allow anyone on the land shooting for at least two months, just to allow the rabbits to be completely calm and quiet. Because if you go and shoot it up and then do a poison operation, they’ll still be really cautious.”
Compounding the challenge is the necessity of neighbour buy-in, says MacLean. If rabbits are permitted to thrive on one piece of land, they’ll quickly overrun the others, like a leak that can’t be plugged. “You need a whole lot of cooperation and collaboration; that’s the key to successful rabbit control,” he says. “Rabbits don’t respect boundaries.”
The increasing division of big stations into smaller and smaller lifestyle blocks makes this difficult—not only are there more people to coordinate, but often landowners are from outside the region, with little experience of rabbits.
“The 10-acre people really don’t think the rabbits are their problem,” says Dave Ramsay. “Some of them think it’s quite cute to have bunnies running around their property. But the regional council has publicly said that if these 10-acre people don’t do it, they’ll just go in and then send them the bill.”
Things can become quite “emotive”, says MacLean. “With the proliferation of lifestyle blocks, you’ve got a lot of urban people moving into semi-rural areas and they’re averse to using any sort of toxins,” he says. “But when you’re dealing with some of our multi-generational Central Otago landowners, they understand rabbits and how to control them and what needs to be done.”
Community agreement has long been difficult to obtain. An 1869 Nelson Examiner story reported on a Kaikoura farmer pleading for his neighbour, Mr Keene, to kill the rabbits on his land: he concludes by wishing that Keene “might be transmogrified into a ferret”, because then he’d be doomed to hunt rabbits till the end of his days. A fitting punishment, it was judged, for one who stood by while his neighbour’s property was wrecked.
At the time, ferrets were touted as the solution to ‘the evil’, released throughout the country with the notion that they’d be rabbit-hunting operatives. They quickly found easier prey in New Zealand’s much slower bird life. Now, rabbit meat is used in mustelid traps—one pest used to catch another—enabling Ray Moffat to run a side business selling dead rabbits to the Department of Conservation. It now comprises around 30 per cent of his income.
By 1890, there was no need to transmogify the Mr Keenes of New Zealand: failing to control rabbits on one’s land attracted heavy fines. These days, the Otago Regional Council budgets 2200 hours a year for biosecurity officers to police this, and in 2013, one landowner was taken to court over excessive rabbits.
I’m walking around kicking matagouri bushes at Craig’s suggestion, because apparently rabbits like to hide in them. I think he may be having me on. I kick a lot of thornbushes and nothing happens. I kick one and a cloud of white butterflies rises out of it like scraps of paper floating in the breeze. I kick another and a bunny breaks loose; I yell, and it makes the mistake of running in Craig’s direction. The sound of the shot echoes off the hills.
The evening light is syrupy and extravagant, illuminating a corona of gold around every thornbush and tussock. In the distance, the hills are fading gently to mauve.
It’s time for the bunny hunters to reconvene. Back at the woolshed, the air is flavoured with lanolin and frying sausages as each truck adds up its rabbits. The Hopper Stoppers have hit their daytime target of 200.
Ray puts $100 on the table for any of the other three trucks that can beat his score. Every year, he’s kept his money—but today, Andrew’s truck has recorded the highest kill.
“And you’ve got three members of the military on your team,” says Russell Goodwin, one of Andrew’s crew. “What’s your excuse?”
Over hash browns and saveloys, Lisa confides that she’s glad Jared’s truck isn’t the one with the highest score. It would feel as though Ray was being supplanted by his son. He might retire. She’s the first of several Hopper Stoppers to privately worry about the day Ray gives it all up.
But right now, he’s cheerily boasting of how he’s never slept during the bunny hunt. Well, except last year, when the Jackaroo broke down.
“Sleeping is quitting,” intones Russell.
Through the woolshed door we watch the sky go from pale pink to deep blue. Now the hunt really begins: they’re hoping to get triple the rabbits by spotlight.
Ray is impatient to get going—he wants to reach a few of the lower paddocks before Andrew does—and we’re the first truck to leave. As we coast bumpily downhill, an orange moon peers over the ridge of the mountains across Lake Dunstan. Easter’s full moon makes it a bad time for rabbit hunting—they shy away from the light.
Rabbits are cautious creatures, and they learn quickly, says Ray. On the job, he shoots them by day and by night. Get into a routine, he says, and they’ll learn it. Go to a station and do a bad job of shooting, and they’ll lie low, making it hard to finish the job. You have to be quick, and unpredictable, and accurate. “They get more cunning as the night goes on,” he says. “The rabbit that escapes the first time will escape a second time.”
We seem to be in luck—it’s a warm evening, the moon is quickly hidden by cloud, and the crew is shooting at a brisk pace, the spotlight finding one, two, three rabbits at once, Ray looping through the lucerne fields to make sure we’ve got them all.
Lisa is telling me how she met Chris, an ex-Defence Force gun mechanic (on a Hercules, she threw him a note with her phone number), when the Jackaroo burps to a halt and all the lights go off. Ray is out the door and under the bonnet in a moment, shouting instructions to Chris. The engine coughs and coughs, but won’t start.
“Got a screwdriver? A hunting knife?” In a couple of minutes, he’s figured out that there’s a problem with the fuel line, that it’s the solenoid valve, and bypasses it. We’re going again.
“That’s the good thing about these old engines,” he mutters as he gets back into the cab. “They’re straightforward.”
It quickly becomes apparent that what I think is a lot of rabbits is, to the Hopper Stoppers, not very many rabbits at all. “They’re not running,” says Chris. “They usually try and squirt out past you.”
Squirting, he explains, is when bunnies hide until the truck almost runs over them, then dart out from under its wheels.
Maybe these rabbits have learned to be wary of the sound of a four-wheel drive. Maybe the virus has swept through the station lately.
“There’s not enough here to interest me,” says Ray, and guns the truck into the next paddock.
Rabbit calcivirus disease (RCD) was illegally released on a number of Central Otago farms in the winter of 1997, after the Ministry of Agriculture denied an official application to introduce it to the country. It remains New Zealand’s biggest intentional biosecurity breach, but no one was prosecuted for the crime, and possession of the virus was legalised later that year.
At first, rabbit populations were hard-hit, providing farmers with a respite, but rabbit numbers eventually rebounded. The timing of RCD’s release, early in the breeding season, meant that baby rabbits, which can survive exposure to the virus, developed life-long immunity to it. Today, around two-thirds of the rabbit population is estimated to be immune to the virus.
Australian researchers began searching the world for better strains of RCD that might continue the job, and one identified in Korea—nicknamed K5—fitted the bill. It has since been tested in containment, and will probably be released in Australia later this year. “It has the same characteristics as the original RCD,” says Janine Duckworth, leader of rabbit biocontrol research at Landcare Research. “It will act pretty much in the same way—the animals will die pretty quickly, and there will be periodic outbreaks. It only affects rabbits, and there’s a vaccine that protects pets and commercial rabbits from both the existing RCD strain and K5. But it can kill some rabbits that are currently protected by antibodies.”
This time around, its release will be carefully planned. Next autumn, Duckworth hopes, when there are few baby rabbits in the picture.
Landcare Research is also trying to develop a crowd-sourced mapping tool in order to provide a clearer picture of New Zealand’s rabbit population. “We can guess where rabbit numbers are high based on climate and altitude but we don’t have quite the same understanding of how they are affected by things like like irrigation and land use,” says Duckworth. “When we release the virus, we want to make sure we’ve got release sites that cover the whole rabbit-infested area.”
K5 is projected to kill between 10 and 40 per cent more of the population than the current RCD strain, says Duckworth.
The hours before midnight were warm, but the hours since have bled heat by degrees, and now, at maybe six in the morning, I can barely uncurl my fingers. I’m wearing six layers of merino and buried in a hunting jacket of Lisa’s and it seems as though time has stalled. The sun won’t rise for more than an hour, and the moon hasn’t moved in the sky since the last time I looked at it. We’re in a repeating loop of farmland, like levels on a computer game you have to conquer over and over again.
Worse, we can’t find any rabbits. The world has shrunk to the short-range glow of our lights, and matagouri bushes and fenceposts loom suddenly out of the dark. I’m so addled I think that every stump and stone and clump of weeds is part of a bunny. I keep dozing off for a few seconds at a time and dreaming fragmented images before the blast of someone’s shotgun wakes me.
I start talking to Ray to keep myself awake, and it turns out he has cheated death a few times. He was chronically depressed for much of his life, not that he realised it. Once, in an attempt to quit smoking, he took a medication that contained a mild anti-depressant. The world transformed. He transformed. “Now my family know the symptoms and when I need to go back on the drugs,” he says. “I talk about it because nobody else does.”
Ray’s new lease on life was almost terminated early when he was admitted to hospital with viral myocarditis, an inflammation that attacks the muscles of the heart. When he got out of intensive care, Cheryl told him to follow his rabbit-hunting dreams, so he quit the MDF factory and moved to Cromwell to become a professional pest controller. Ten years ago, he was supposed to live for five.
Finally, the woolshed rises out of the dark, and we’re shaking out our legs and unloading stiff rabbits into the trailer that’ll take them to Pioneer Park. Everyone’s back except Craig’s truck, but no one speaks.
I try to say something to Lottie and she just shakes her head. Or maybe she’s shivering. She’s wearing an old suit of Ray’s that was originally designed for use in the Arctic. I notice, finally, the red of the trailer, the silhouette of the mountains in the distance, the fact that the sky is grey rather than black, the light finding cracks in the cloud. It feels like coming out of a cave.
Inside the shed, Cheryl is handing out bacon butties and cups of coffee. First business first: Ray’s truck has pulled ahead on the scorecard, and it doesn’t look like anyone else will catch him.
Jared is annoyed because everyone in his truck eventually fell asleep, except him. Craig’s night was plagued with errors—a break-down, a twisted ankle. Around six, his team switched all the truck’s lights off and lay down in the paddock. Fifteen minutes, says Brent. That’s all you need.
“Hey, Chris, sleeping is cheating!” says Proby.
“I’m just putting my feet up,” says Chris, lying on the floor with his eyes closed and his legs on a chillybin.
“I’m only a quarter of your age so I only have a quarter of your rabbits,” Jared is explaining to Ray, but he is mathematically compromised from lack of sleep. Together they calculate that they’re not quite at 750. “We need another 40,” says Jared, frantically. “Let’s go get another 40.”
And they’re off again, just as the peach-coloured light stretches across the land.
It’s a cloudless Saturday afternoon, and the stink of rabbits rises from the ground. I’ve been awake for close to 36 hours, and I’ve entered an alternative plane of reality where everything is brighter, sharper, more profound.
The rabbits are laid out in long rows in the park. I don’t think the Hopper Stoppers’ line is the longest, and I’m not sure where they’ve finished in the field.
All teams have shot fewer rabbits than they were expecting. There are a few people wondering if calcivirus swept through before the hunt: it had been such a long, hot summer that much higher numbers were anticipated.
Now, it’s uncertain whether 2015’s total will be topped.
The prizegiving begins with the “extremely last” combination team, North and South and the Jaffa Hunters, with 121 rabbits. There are special prizes for the best-decorated truck, the longest-serving competitor, and the four Swedish men, whose team finished a respectable eighth.
Fifth place is the Hare-Raising Mutineers, fourth is Batty’s Bunch from Ashburton, third is Overkill. The Southern Hopper Stoppers, with 755 rabbits, are in second place, again, and Down South take top honours—again. “Take that prize money and buy a nice dress,” yells Katrina Irwin after Ray as he crosses the field to pick up the award. “Always the bridesmaid!”
“I’m fed up with second place,” says Ray, but he’s smiling too much to be fed up. He gets to shoot again next year, and he knows there’s no way they could have found a hundred more rabbits in Lowburn to top Down South’s kill of 889.
For now, it’s time to revisit the hunt, the good shots and the terrible ones, the time the truck broke down and the dogs ran out of energy. And when that’s done, there are plenty of past hunts, too. Like the one where they shot nothing during the day and then it poured with rain and suddenly all the rabbits appeared, abandoning their burrows. The time one of Craig’s shooters dozed off on his feet, and Brent only just managed to grab him before he toppled off the truck.
Soon, this moment will pass, the ring of camping chairs will be collapsed like umbrellas, I’ll finally fall asleep. But for now, Ray is grinning from ear to ear. He’s sitting down for the first time I can remember, Cheryl’s hand on his knee, surveying the scene of his friends and his family and their friends, all the people that ‘the evil’ of Central Otago has irreversibly joined together.