Reviving a venue of years gone

Locals are fundraising to restore the Waihi Beach Soundshell at Pohutakawa Park

When I was eight-years-old, my sister and I performed a rendition of ‘One Day a Taniwha’ – me accompanying on guitar while she did the actions – at a talent quest at the Waihi Beach Soundshell in Pohutakawa Park.

Fast forward 38 years, and the old sound shell is still standing – just. The local community is keen to bring back some of the good times that were enjoyed there by young and old.

It was always a simple structure – a concrete block shell with a roof over the top and two changing rooms out the back – but the years haven’t been kind and it’s in need of a little TLC.

There is uncertainty about when the Soundshell was first built, but local resident Mike Hickey, 74, has been holidaying in Waihi Beach for 70 years and remembers the 1950s as a particularly busy time for the local concert venue.

“We had the likes of Howard Morrison, Bill and Boyd and Brendan Dugan perform there,” says Mike. “It’s a great venue because you can sit up under the trees and it can hold about two or three thousand people just sitting on rugs. It has a fantastic view of the beach as well.”

Mike, who has also been a member of the Waihi Beach Surf Lifesaving Club for 52 years, spent many a year collecting money for the club on the gate at the annual Miss Waihi Beach contest and talent quest.

He would have seen plenty of versions of ‘One Day a Taniwha’ or similar over the years.

Tag wrestling was also on offer at the Soundshell from time to time, with professional New Zealand wrestler John da Silva occasionally making an appearance.

Mike adds: “Fred Smith, one of the stalwarts of the surf club at that time, used to drive around in his car with a loud speaker on the roof announcing ‘tag wrestling at the Soundshell tonight, three against three. Six wrestlers, 120 stone of fighting dynamite’.”

He says it has been more than 10 years since the Miss Waihi Beach contest/talent quest has been held at the Soundshell and he is keen to see more family events held there.

Pohutakawa Park is owned and maintained by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, while the Soundshell is owned and managed by Waihi Beach Events and Promotions. A council inspection in December identified a number of items that required repair.

Recent consultation with the Waihi Beach community revealed they were keen to see it restored. The first fundraising event – Christmas in the Park – was held in December and raised more than $800 in donations.

Two scheduled talent shows were cancelled over the summer due to a clash with other local events.

Waihi Beach Events and Promotions coordinator Kelly Moselen says the idea was to draw people back to the Soundshell this summer and remind them what a great venue it is.

“It’s a small venue, but it’s a spectacular venue and anyone can hire it for an event,” says Kelly.

“We hope to bring back some of those talent quests of old in future.”