Vinegar Hill is a camping area on the Rangitikei river, within the Putai Ngahere reserve in the Manawatū -Whanganui region, just north of Hunterville.
Each year from mid December to early January, gay, lesbian, transgender, and rainbow folks and their whānau gather for camping and D.I.Y. community events over the Christmas and New Year holidays. It is not a commercial ‘event’, but simply a gathering of community at a camp ground. It is entirely non-commercial, so it remains community driven and you can relax without anyone trying to sell you anything.
For the community to take care of it’s own needs, a ‘Queen’s tax’ is payable, this cost is $10 total per person, which is paid to the Queen at The Palace (signposted).
This helps to cover community costs, such as the stage, trailer hire for collecting bonfire wood, sound and lighting equipment, etc. A rainbow wristband is issued, which allows you to attend community events and enter competitions.
For those attending only on New Years eve, Queens taxes are $5.
Manawatū District Council charges the following camp fees per night:
Adult $10 each
Child $4 each
Adult (per week) $50 each
Child (under 12yrs, per week) $20 each
Council fees are usually paid at the signposted caravan near the gate, and a receipt and council wristband are issued, however due to C19 tracking, in 2020 the Council requires prior registration and payment.
The Queer History of Vinegar Hill
Six gay men first camped at Vinegar Hill in January 1975 or 1977, a decade before Homosexual Law Reform decriminalised being gay in 1986.
By the early 1980s, Vinegar Hill had developed it’s own culture. The first Queen, Bill Armstrong, was appointed in 1985 to reign at the 1986 camp, by Mal Vaughn of Wellington’s gay bar Scotty and Mal’s (or S&M’s).
Initially, the idea of “Queen of Vinegar Hill” was based on a comedic idea of beauty queens, but this later developed into an idea of appointed royalty. Some of the early coronations were recorded under their drag names.
The Queen and Queens Council
The Queen’s Council is made up of previous Queens. As well as nominating and electing the new Queen each year, it is the job of the Queen’s Council members to advise and assist the Queen in organising for community life at camp.
Previous Queens include: Wellamiena Armstrong, Mal Kennedy-Vaughan (née Vaughan), Pearl Pawson, A-Malcolm-B, Wanda Wilkinson, Dorothy Gibbs, Lilac Draper, Mike “Bikie Binzi” Binis, Slimmy Simmy, Sheela Shitface Johnston, Daniel Fielding, Ian Heteraka, Lyn and Heather, Jimmi Hart, Kim and Chris, Neil Day, Geoff Robinson, Calum Bennachie, Colin Waterhouse, Toni Farrow, Marc Smith, (Celine) Dion Leslie, Jenni James, Daniel Corney, Aaron King, Lynette Knox, Murray Smith (Muriel), Andrew Morgan (Nurse Gladys), Shane Young, David Playle, Iria Pene, Andrew Fletcher, Ian and Tisha Klien, and Gary Duncan.
Queen of Vinegar Hill
Members of The Queens Council hold a meeting on December 31st each year to elect a new Queen. The new Queen is crowned shortly before midnight during the New Year celebration, and will reign during the following year’s celebrations.
The duties of the Queen include liaising with the Manawatu district Council, organising the stage, MC, performers and entertainment, and wood collection for the New Year bonfire, collecting the Queen’s taxes, etc. The Queen’s name is engraved on the Vinegar Hill Queens’ trophy.
To be elected Queen, a person must have attended for at least 5 years, and have provided service to the Vinegar Hill community.