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BRAS, BOOTS AND BIKES

New Zealanders let it all hang out - on rural fences. They display vast collections of used shoes, bras, bicycles, and even skins of feral pigs, on roadside fences that have become tourist attractions. In many parts of the US and a few in Canada, old shoes decorate trees instead of fences.

We first learned about this strange craze when we read a story headed Pig-skin fence turning holidaymakers' heads in the New Zealand Herald. It said that about 30 skins of wild pigs draped along a fence at Tahora, between Stratford and Taumarunui, was raising the eyebrows of travellers along the North Island's Forgotten World Highway.

Bruce Herbert, owner of the nearby Bushlands Holiday Park, said the skins began appearing about a month earlier. "It's local pig hunters showing off their pig hunting skills," he said. New skins were often added, as many as five or six in a single day.

It's unlikely that the skins will suffer the same fate as the 200 bras ripped off in broad daylight from a South Island fence.

Reporting their disappearance, Dave Smith wrote in the Otago Daily Times: "CARDRONA. Brazen brassiere bandits have uplifted one of the Cardrona Valley's tourism icons. More than 200 bras, right down to the last D cup, have been snipped off the bra fence, leaving just posts, wire and rabbit netting.

"Waiorau Snow Farm owner John Lee was alerted to the undergarment theft just hours after it happened. Yesterday, Mr Lee could only stand and stare at bare fence wires and ponder who might have done the dastardly deed."

Lee posted a $500 reward for information leading to the culprits. He said most of the bras had been left by passing travellers, some from as far away as Germany, the United States and Israel. A visiting American minister had once blessed the fence.

Loss of the bras didn't worry Lee, because 280 more garments had been hung on the fence, "from functional sports models to enticing lace evening wear."

Returning to the North Island, near New Plymouth a bike fence forms the frontage for The Missing Leg backpacker's hostel in Egmont Village. That too has attracted the attention of thieves.

"Fence owner Brian Garrett says he's lost 30 bikes over the 12 months the fence has been up, with some bold thieves stealing them in broad daylight," says a Taranaki TV website.

In the South Island, a fence near the Rakaia Gorge, on the road to Christchurch, displays hundreds of pairs of discarded shoes. "We'd backed to the road verge to inspect and photograph it," says the author of a picture-story posted by justtourpictures.com. "We were shortly joined by three more cars and a tour bus.

"The story has it a local farmer found a pair of shoes, possibly dropped from a passing car and hung them on his fence in case the owner returned for them. Some wag thought this amusing and added further old shoes to the fence. Others followed suit, and the fence now bows under the weight of hundreds of pairs of old footwear."

Just East of Burke's Pass in South Canterbury (en route to Queenstown from Christchurch) is a growing phenomenon on a farmer's fence, the Shoe Fence. Over 1000 (well, 1182 at last count) shoes, sandals, ski boots, gumboots and flippers are strung along a good old 8 strand fence. It all started so they say when a pair of moccasins were left for a shearer as he had left his behind.
- Message from Ralph Davies, posted by KiwiNews.com

Americans prefer to use their old shoes to decorate not fences, but trees. "Shoe trees may be the greatest embodiment of the American spirit you can find on the highway (free of admission charge, anyway)," says Roadside America.

"A shoe tree starts with one dreamer tossing his or her footwear-of-old high into the sky, to catch on an out-of-reach branch. It usually ends there, unseen and neglected by others. But on rare occasions, that first pair of shoes triggers a shoe tossing cascade.

"Soon, teens are gathering up their old Adidas and Sauconys, families are driving out after church with Dad's Reeboks and grandma's Keds. The shoe tree blooms with polymer beauty. A work of art like this may last for generations, tracing our history by our sneakers... as long as the tree doesn't die.

"On Highway 50 near Middle Gate, Nevada, a lone cottonwood stands, clotted with hundreds of shoes. One tipster tells us the first pair was thrown during a wedding night argument by a young couple; later, their children's shoes were added to the bough. Whatever its origins, the tree now seems to suck up all the discarded footwear in the county.

"Another lone shoe tree is reported south of Alturas, California... The tree features scores of sneaker pairs dangling from branches, a strange ritual by bored locals. Not a fully developed shoe tree, but far from anywhere. A shrunken old desert tree near Vidal, California... bears both shoes and a variety of shirts."

If you want to read about and see photos of many other US shoe trees, visit Roadside America's excellent website.

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Copyright 2004

Eric Shackle

Story first posted ??? 2004

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