A Bombardment of Bewilderment
The University of Waikato was good enough to offer me its writer-in-residence position to complete Blue Smoke. So (a local reviewer sniffed) I should have responded by doing some research and including more Hamiltonians in the book. Musicians of national significance or influence born in Hamilton – or who made their name there – did seem to be hiding when I was looking for them. (After all, Ngaruawahia supplied the piano greats Nancy Harrie and Mike Nock). Many passed through, such as Phil Campbell and Nolan Rafferty, and there were many important locals, such as dance-band pianist Johnny Corban.
But who were the contenders that I missed? I’m open to suggestions (see email form at right). Meanwhile, here is a flyer for a night of entertainment in Hamilton that we were unlucky to miss. Auckland born, Christchurch raised Edgar Benyon was perhaps New Zealand’s most important magician. So highly regarded was Benyon that the Variety Artists Club named its top award for entertainers after him. (For years I assumed it was after promoter Benny Levin, or longtime dance-band pianist Edgar Bendall.)
Benyon gets an entry in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, which says:
Edgar was famed for the inventiveness of his optical illusions, his mind-reading tricks and the skill of his juggling. Perhaps his most famous feat was to spin a billiard cue like a propeller on the tip of another cue held horizontally – something he claimed to have learned from watching Maori stick games.
Researching Benyon just now I came across this great jpeg of a poster, from the vintage poster blog of Christchurch antique dealer Deric Blackler. At the website for his store Portobello Antiques, Blackler tells the heartbreaking story of his experiences in the February 22 Christchurch earthquake. Luckily, there is a happy ending, thanks to some Australian rescue workers who obviously weren’t trained in heritage awareness by our bullying Minister of Demolition. For the original red Benyon flyer above I must thank my Hamilton-born friend, the Amazing Gina.