To add to the festivities, a “president” is elected each Republic Day. John Herlihy currently holds the seat of power, who says he “was sort of bulldozed there by neighbors and grandkids in 2017”. He added: “It all sounded like a bit of a laugh, but when the day came I was nervous driving in front of thousands of people.”
Herlihy remains the only living current or ex-president (unless you count Pratt, who stepped in as an interim when a president died in office). Ian Kjestrup (the first president-elect) and Murt Kennard (who presided from 2005-2015) both died, not to mention Billy the Gumboot goat (there were rumors of poisoning) and Tai the poodle who died of old age (despite speculation of an assassination attempt by another dog). No, you don’t have to be human to be president of Whangamōmona; Sherman the cockatoo, Eunice the sheep and other animals also ran for election.
It is obvious that the people of these regions do not take themselves too seriously. “It’s all been a bit fun,” Herlihy said, “but realistically the tourism it brings helps our remote community. We make NZ$15,000 from the sale of passports on Republic Day and 15 Additional NZ$000 throughout the year with visitors wishing to get their passports stamped.” This greatly supports the town and the wider farming community, with school needs, hall and church maintenance, and sending children on field trips like Spirit of Adventure (a skills development course well-known young New Zealander who takes place at sea).
Like most residents, Herlihy enjoys living in “Wanga”, even though it is so far from many modern conveniences. “It’s old-school New Zealand at its best,” he said. “A neighbor broke his arm recently, and the next thing you know 10 people are calling to see what he needed a helping hand, mooring or shearing or whatever. “