From ‘muddy waters’ to ‘effulgent light’

This year, Whitireia celebrates 30 years of leading and illuminating its communities through quality tertiary education.

As part of our celebrations we are rolling out the 30 for 30 series, a collection of 30 stories highlighting many of the key events in the history of Whitireia. From our humble beginnings 30 years ago on the shores of Porirua Harbour, we have grown to become one of New Zealand’s leading polytechnics – the tertiary institution of choice for over 7000 students with an impressive list of achievements.

We hope you enjoy looking back and reflecting with us, and encourage you to share your own memories and comments. We would not be where we are now without the wonderful staff, students and community members who have supported us along the way – thank you all for being part of the journey.

In this instalment, we travel back to 1986-89 to look at the evolution of our name:

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‘Whitireia – the source of effulgent light – an ancient name, revered since time immemorial (…) That the new polytechnic should carry this name was felt to be appropriate. It would be a source of learning that would radiate outwards and enlighten the community.’

Puoho Katene, Ngāti Toa Kaumātua

During the planning phase, the proposed polytechnic had initially been referred to as Porirua Regional Community College, however, at the final community consultation meeting the name Parumoana was presented to the council. Parumoana was the name used to describe the foreshore upon which the institution would be constructed when the land was reclaimed, and when it officially opened its doors, it was as Parumoana Community College.

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As early as the official opening, though, council chair Tino Meleisea noted the words ‘Community College’ were causing some confusion in the community, with many associating the name with an alternative secondary school. Mr Meleisea suggested that a name change may be necessary, but stated that the word ‘Community’ should be retained as a constant reminder of the institution’s special focus.

Other councillors, staff and the public agreed that ‘College’ had connotations of secondary school. At a council meeting in April, it was resolved to replace the word ‘College’ with ‘Polytechnic’, which it was felt more clearly conveyed the tertiary role, and the name change was soon  approved by the Minister of Education.

However, there was also discontent with the name Parumoana, which translates in a literal sense as ‘muddy waters’. The name was said to be creating considerable embarrassment and loss of mana for students. Before it became Parumoana Community College, Ngāti Toa kaumātua Māui Pomare had suggested the institution take the name Whitireia, meaning the source of effulgent light, and this was again proposed by another kaumātua – Patariki Te Rei – in 1988. It was an ancient name, according to Puoho Katene, with local associations.

‘That the new polytechnic should carry this name was felt to be appropriate. It would be a source of learning that would radiate outwards and enlighten the community. It would be a guide for those who are seeking directions as they steer their course in life.’

Early in 1989, the council recommended to the Associate Minister of Education that the name be changed to Whitireia Community Polytechnic – Te Kura Matatini o Whitireia – and the change came into effect in September of that year. It was widely felt that the new name more accurately reflected the regional nature of the polytechnic and its aspirations– ‘to lead and illuminate our communities through tertiary education.’

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Thirty for 30: Breaking New Ground

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“This was all sea here. They’ve reclaimed a lot of the land. The polytechnic was just a big pond, there was nothing here.” – Ihakara Arthur, Ngāti Toa Kaumatua

After funding had been secured by Education Minister Russell Marshall, plans for construction on a former mudflat in Porirua Harbour were put in motion in June of 1985. The six hectare mudflat had been reclaimed by using fill from Housing New Zealand developments, the Todd Motors site and the Elsdon industrial area. Ngāti Toa owned the land and had expressed to the government that it should be used for the building of a community educational institution, pointing out that this would benefit the community as a whole.

Aerial-shot-1960The tapu was lifted from the site in a dawn ceremony by Ngāti Toa kaumātua, including Wāra Katene, Patariki Te Rei, Māui Pomare, and Matua-a-iwi and Harata Solomon. The MP for Kāpiti at the time, Margaret Shields, turned the first sod, telling those in attendance that the ceremony was a momentous occasion and that the college was a hugely important development for the region.

breakinggroundThus, what has been described as one of the fastest construction programmes in New Zealand educational history got underway, though much of the work was carried out in less than ideal conditions. Whitireia builder Wally Clay was involved in the construction and said “we had to work up to our knees in mud sometimes (…) It was a total bog over there.” Fortunately, the original buildings were mostly prefabs and the construction crews were able to get them up fairly quickly despite the mud.

building2While much remained to be done in terms of development around the site, the necessary buildings were completed in time for the first enrolments in February 1986, when Parumoana Community College officially opened its doors.

[Look out for the next ‘Thirty for 30’ instalment on the official opening of the campus in Porirua. Sign up to the blog to receive a notification as soon as it’s posted. You can also read our first instalment here: Thirty for 30: Origins]

Thirty for 30: Origins

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This year, Whitireia celebrates 30 years of leading and illuminating its communities through quality tertiary education.

As part of our celebrations we are rolling out the ‘Thirty for 30’ series, a collection of 30 stories highlighting many of the key events in the history of Whitireia. From our humble beginnings 30 years ago on the shores of Porirua Harbour, we have grown to become one of New Zealand’s leading polytechnics – the tertiary institution of choice for over 7000 students with an impressive list of achievements.

We hope you enjoy looking back and reflecting with us, and encourage you to share your own stories and memories. We would not be where we are now without the wonderful staff, students and community members who have supported us along the way – thank you all for being part of the journey.

In our first ‘Thirty for 30’ instalment, we travel back to the early 1980s to look at the origins of Whitireia:

Origins

Throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, the people of Porirua were largely dependent on Todd Motors as a source of employment. However, the plant began to run down in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and it became apparent that many in the community would need to reskill or upskill through education in order to find more stable work.

While a number of employment-based and tertiary-level courses were offered across the Porirua region, the providers were ill-equipped for the demand in the area and most people had to travel to Wellington City or the Hutt Valley for further education and training.

The Minister of Education at the time, Russell Marshall, said it was “inadequate and unacceptable” that such a substantial Wellington community was “not being served on-site by an own-your-own, do-it-yourself, stand-alone facility.”

A senior tutor from what was then Wellington Polytechnic compiled a case for a new tertiary institution in Porirua, and the report received widespread support. Proponents of the plan included Porirua mayor Whitford Brown, councillors Eric McKenzie and Ned Nathan, New Zealand Nurses’ Association representative Margaret Faulkner, trade unionist Rob Campbell, John Tamahori from the Department of Māori Affairs, former Mana College principal Doug Day, Kāpiti councillor Mac Clunie, Tawa councillor Roy Mitchell, and Ngāti Toa kaumātua.

By May of 1985, Minister Marshall was able to announce to a meeting of Porirua community leaders that a “community college” would open its doors in early 1986. A public meeting was then held, where the make-up of the college council was established. Soon after, Labour Department executive officer Tino Meleisa was elected council chair, the first Pacific Island chair of any tertiary sector council in New Zealand, while Wellington High School principal Turoa Royal, of Ngāti Toa and Ngāti Raukawa descent, was considered “a natural and inspired choice for foundation principal.”

Finally, after widespread consultation and the consent of the local tangata whenua, the new institution was christened Parumoana Community College. Key staff were quickly appointed and planning began immediately on the programmes and courses that would be rolled out.

[Look out for next week’s ‘Thirty for 30’ story on the construction of the campus in Porirua. Sign up to the blog to receive a notification as soon as it’s posted.]