The beginnings of ASB Polyfest



This annual event, now the largest Polynesian Festival in the world began at Hillary College, Otara in 1976. Students, Michael Rollo and Mata (Te Kii) Raela, and staff members, Mr Bill Tawhai, Mr Hone and Mrs Heni Green, envisioned the festival's potential success. Another outstanding figure was the late Ach Lee Fong Ah Chong, initially involved as a student, and later as a teacher. The festival’s purpose was to demonstrate the students pride in their cultural identity and heritage and bring schools and the different cultures between them together.


When the first festival was held at Hillary College it was supported by students, staff and parents.  This including the Parent Teacher Association of the school, led by Mrs Nan Terewi who took responsibility for the organisation of food – a hangi and tuckshop – even though only four schools took part, the festival attracted a large audience. The then mayor of Manukau, Lloyd Elsmere, opened the festival and welcomed the competitors and guests from Seddon High School (Western Springs), Aorere College and Mangere College as well as the host school Hillary College. Maori, Cook Islands and Samoan groups took part and the competition was won by Mangere College with Hillary College coming second and Seddon third.

From this small beginning, an exciting annual event developed, moving from school to school for many years – for example, Mangere College hosted it in 1977, with competitive and non-competitive groups. Each year saw more schools involved and more cultures so that in 1981, when Hillary hosted the festival again, there were 26 schools involved and two stages up on the top field. By 1991, when Hillary again organised the event, 38 schools were involved, five stages were needed and the Asian community added its cultural performances to the programme. The festival was rapidly becoming so large that it was beyond the capabilities of a single school to manage, so the venue was changed in 1996 to the Manukau Velodrome where it was possible to establish stage areas for different cultures and manage the public and parking more easily.

Photography by Evotia Tamua

from the book "Polynesian Festival"