Ad Feedback

Busker adds soundtrack

The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 02/10/2009
SUE FEA/148461
ON THE BEAT: Queenstown's long-time resident busker Kim Turton on the job on his downtown Rees St patch.

Relevant offers

Queenstown reporter SUE FEA speaks to a dedicated busker who has survived winter nights in sub-zero temperatures, had his wheelchair hijacked by drunks, been abused, attacked and even blessed to the tune of $500 by an Aussie millionaire.

If you've never seen Kim Turton then you're likely to have heard him somewhere in downtown Queenstown, singing his regular repertoire of classic hits and golden oldies during the past seven years.

Come midnight the drunks love him, staggering around his open guitar case to sing, or slur, along to Hotel California, Brown Eyed Girl, Sweet Home Alabama or Pink Floyd anthem Another Brick in the Wall.

Earlier in the evening, workers and shoppers are serenaded daily to Wonder Wall, Wish You Were Here or Mrs Robinson.

A busker for 11 years who started out in Wellington, Turton now officially calls Queenstown home and turns out in all weathers till the wee small hours, unfazed by the bitter winter temperatures.

The cold doesn't deter this hardy Cantabrian, layered in polypropylene and thermals, woollen fingerless gloves, hat and scarf, singing joyfully in freezing temperatures as low as -5 degrees Celsius to make a living.

And it's a reasonable living at that, with $40 for a three-hour stint the lowest he's ever earned, preferring not to disclose the top end of the scale.

He endured even nine months with his leg in plaster, propped on his guitar case, six of those months confined to a wheelchair after a bad snowboarding accident meant he needed surgery to place pins in his leg.

It wasn't all bad.

"I earned maybe 30 per cent more during those months," he grinned.

"Some of the locals wouldn't believe me ... that it was real, but it was my best season ever."

But he soon found he couldn't work nights in a wheelchair.

"I ended up getting wheeled down the Mall at high speed when people came out of the bars."

A resident at the Queenstown Camping Ground at the time, Turton said he manoeuvered his way down the steep Man St incline to work in his wheelchair, guitar strapped to his back and bag on his lap, at times reaching speeds of 35kmh.

"I only came out of it twice," he said with a grin.

His biggest donation was a wad of $500 cash thrown into his guitar case by an Aussie millionaire from Saudi Arabia.

"That was nine years ago, I was just starting out then and he offered to be my benefactor, but I lost his card and last year I found it hidden in the back seat of my car in between the seats. I was too embarrassed to contact him and say, `it's been 10 years, what have you been up to? I'm still a busker'," he laughed.

The businessman had been on a world tour with his wife and the couple had stopped and sung with Turton on the Eichardts corner.

Ad Feedback

"He bought Steinies and Cuban cigars for the crowd and a bourbon and Coke for me. He said I was too good to be on a street and gave me the money to buy an amp."

The past year had been his most lean, taking on a part-time job as a pub poker host to boost his income for the first time.

Turton said the recession had brought more buskers to Queenstown streets, particularly after some of the building work dropped off earlier this year.

"This year there's been the most ever – it's normally just me, and Max on the pan flute during summer."

"When there were no jobs for a lot of young guys, a lot of them got their guitars out."

There was a kind of unspoken rule that you didn't park up on another busker's regular patch and, although many visitors had tried, Turton said there was usually a "sort of respect" to move on.

"If they don't then I have a word to them and see if I can get some respect," he said.

Most winters Turton scores at least one $100 note tossed into his case, with the Australians by far the most generous, well accustomed to the busking culture back home.

Not all of the staff in nearby stores or offices were that neighbourly when he sang loudly outside their doors during hot summer days, but most residents had really warmed to him, he said.

So much so that male residents rushed to his aid when two drunks tried to beat him up late one night about eight years ago.

"It's only happened twice ... that time six local guys were instantly there and came to my aid."

Post a comment

Post comment


Required. Will not be published.
Registration is not required to post a comment but if you sign in, you will not have to enter your details each time you comment. Registered members also have access to extra features. Create an account now.

I have read and accepted the terms and conditions
These comments are moderated. Your comment, if approved, may not appear immediately. Please direct any queries about comment moderation to the Opinion Editor at
Ad Feedback
Special offers

Featured Promotions