Auckland's Community Centre
When Te Ao Hou visited Auckland's Maori Community Centre recently, a couple of hundred people were twisting expertly to a beaty tune from the Playdates, one of Auckland's top bands (see photo above). This was a quiet night; they often have crowds of 500 or more, especially on Fridays, and we only wished that we could have stayed till the next Sunday, when the finals of the £800 Monster Talent Quest packed in an audience of 1,000.
Dances at the Centre (which has been going 14 years) started off by being fairly formal affairs, with the men wearing a white collar and tie, and dancing limited to rather decorous waltzes and so on. But when rock'n roll arrived, attendances went down to almost nothing; the management found out that everyone was going instead to a place down the road where lights were dim, the music was real cool and there were no regulations.
So the Centre changed its policy. It still demands just as high a standard of conduct from the people at its dances—there has been no compromise here—but as Mr Kitchen, the Manager, told ‘Te Ao Hou’, ‘We gave the kids the rock'n roll they wanted, and didn't care if they did wear jeans. After this it took us three months to break the other place, and then we were right.’ The result of this policy, along with high standards of management, is that the Centre is most successful in its main purpose, that of giving people—especially young people—a place of their own where they can relax and enjoy each others' company.
It is run by a Trust Board composed of representatives of the M.W.W.L., the Waitemata Tribal Committee, the Maori Affairs Department, Rotary and the R.S.A.; these last two have always taken a keen, practical interest in the Centre. Most of the profits go to Auckland organisations which are of especial benefit to the Maori people; these include all the maraes round Auckland and such pakeha-run organisations as Boystown, for example.
A great many people give their services freely to help the Centre; honorary wardens are there every weekend, and though the M.W.W.L. members who take turns serving hearty meals in the cafeteria (most popular item: Maori bread) receive contributions to League funds, this is not the main reason why they come.
Every Sunday popular Teenage Afternoons are held. There's table tennis and indoor bowling, lots of people drop in after football and basketball in near-by Victoria Park, and there are performances by local Maori Clubs such as the Maranga and Rangi-Maria groups.
The Centre has become famous as the place for aspiring entertainers to make a name for themselves—provided they are good enough, that is; they don't dare stand up at the Centre unless they really are good. If they can earn a winning place in the twice-yearly Talent Quests, we were told, ‘they are just about ready for the big time’. Most of the famous names in Maori entertainment got a start this way originally.