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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