Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board Chair Lotu Fuli explains the historical significance of the Te Puke o Tara community centre – and what it represents for Ōtara's future.
This Saturday we are re-opening Te Puke o Tara.
But this isn’t just about a council facility’s renovation – thanks to $3 million in funding from the local board – and a civic ceremony being attended by a range of dignitaries including Auckland Mayor Phil Goff.
This is about so much more than that.
For those of us who have been around Ōtara for a while, you’ll know the historical significance of this community centre.
But if you weren’t aware, the centre was the brainchild of a group of Year 10 students at Sir Edmund Hillary College (fourth formers in the old school language) over 40 years ago.
In the early 1970s, Ōtara was a rapidly expanding suburb as many people moved to south Auckland to be closer to jobs.
Unfortunately, the city council did not keep pace with this rapid migration by not creating enough infrastructure, particularly for the large youth population, who were increasingly turning to crime.
This led students in Ian Mitchell’s social studies class to conclude that the area needed a community centre where people of all ages and cultures could come together.
They took their idea to the Manukau City Council and the Government who agreed to help fund the project if the students could also fundraise a significant proportion.
A year later, after an intense fundraising campaign, the students had raised a massive $270,000.
That’s a lot of money in today’s terms but imagine how hard that would have been in the 1970s when most people in the area were working in factories and the minimum wage was only $1.95.
The students helped the architects design the building and set up the Te Puke o Tara trust along with other members of the community and it was finally opened by Prime Minister Bill Rowling on July 15, 1975.
Another amazing aspect to this story was how the trust had the foresight to set up indoor markets to keep the facility financially sustainable and that soon spilt into the carpark, turning into what we now know as the iconic Ōtara fleamarket.
Te Puke o Tara has been the focal point for our community ever since.
Sure there’s been a few ups and downs since its auspicious start but with this re-opening we want to re-establish those values that helped birth this great building.
For this facility to get its first refurbishment in over 40 years beggars belief, but it’s now complete and one of the Ōtara-Papatoetoe Local Board’s main aims is to bring back that 'youth' focus by including a dedicated space which will be youth run. Our youth council TOPS, alongside other youth groups will play a pivotal role in how that space is shaped and developed.
As you can see Te Puke o Tara isn’t just another building but really a symbol to us all of what’s possible when people put their minds to something – even a group of ambitious 14-year-olds in the 1970s.
Today there are many similar challenges facing our community and while there are so many programmes and initiatives for our youth, there are also many more distractions and hurdles to achieving success.
Laying down the challenge
We at the local board don’t have all the answers so we need groups, similar to the students who started this centre to step forward again.
It’s so easy for us as adults to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty that we sometimes forget to dream big.
But to take this suburb to the next level, to be a place where everyone can reach their potential, we need the idealism, ideas and energy of the younger generation.
So please join us for the re-opening of Te Puke o Tara community hall on Saturday, 21 July at 10am.