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A group photo from this year's Umbers Curling Tournament.

Broomsticks and bazookas

Curling and Ranfurly go together. It’s something that every sole-charge cop in the small Central Otago town is made aware of, usually well before they arrive.

Top of the to-do list for the town’s police officer is organising an annual curling tournament that honours slain police officer Senior Constable Peter Umbers, killed on May 27, 1990.

The Umbers Curling Tournament, between locals and a Police team, began the following year and 2021 will be the 30th anniversary of what has become a popular event.

When Senior Constable Jaco Pierterse arrived in Ranfurly five years ago, he admits he didn’t even know what curling was.

There was little chance of him remaining in the dark about it, though. “On my first day, when the moving truck was still outside the house, someone came to see me to sign me up to the local club.”

It didn’t take him long to discover the joys of a sport that, while fiercely competitive, brings the community together, young and old.

The Umbers tournament is held in July at the outdoor Maniototo Ice Rink near Naseby, where the temperature doesn’t rise much over 2C during the day – perfect conditions for skidding a 20-kilogram hunk of stone along the ice to see who can get closest to the target area.

Up to 10 teams of four players vie for a rather idiosyncratic trophy – a bazooka-style rocket launcher that Peter Umbers gave to the club, mounted above a wooden Police baton.

Over the nearly three decades of the event, the Police side has managed a win only once – in 2018 – and, Jaco says, that was only because they conscripted some local curlers onto their side.

Jaco says it’s unlikely the Police team will need to recruit any more players for next year – it’s always over-subscribed – but he is encouraging those who are interested to come to watch the event.

You never know, he says, Police could get lucky again next year.

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