There was a time when people went out to dine, dance and be entertained on the Gold Coast. In the 70's this type of entertainment scene on the Gold Coast was at its peak. Les Girls and Tahiti By Night were billing at the Broadbeach International Hotel, Paul Sharret had his Music Hall in the heart of Surfers Paradise and The Young Polynesians were housed at Quality Inn’s Illuka. I was one of The Young Polynesians.
I like to think that we were entertainers rather than just singers or dancers because we not only sang and danced. We engaged our audiences with a touch of comedy and photo opportunities were created before the show for diners.
It was during this time that we learnt from some of the best entertainers to come out of New Zealand. These men included Nuki and Gugi Waaka, Herma Keil, Benny Ngati, Anzac Te Oka, Len Ormsby, Ricky May, Rim D Paul, John Rowles, Marc Gardiner and Lou “Chief Moko” Campbell. They showed us what being an entertainer really was while their wives taught us how to prepare before we went on stage. Between the two, we were taught how to keep smiling, laughing, singing, dancing and, most importantly, how to keep the show on the road no matter what was going on around us. A skill I still value today.
Nuki Waaka approached my father and mother about me joining The Young Polynesians when I was about 10. Based at the Quality Inns' Iluka, Nuki needed a replacement for his niece, Lenore Waaka who had left the show. I joined in 1976 as the first replacement ever brought in to the group. By this time I was 11 years old and had absolutely no experience being an entertainer. I didn’t know the dance moves, the movements to the songs we performed let alone the words or wink at someone in the front row.
But once I got a little training from a family friend and I loved the show business industry. It transported me into a different world, changing me from a shy and awkward preteen into someone completely different.
We were our own ‘club’. Our relationships with each other were extremely different from our relationships with our other friends of the same age. The Young Polynesians offered a sense of ‘family’ during our formative years. It is hard for people to comprehend the volume of concentrated time performing and rehearsals meant we spent together every week. This ‘time’ was intensified when we were on tour or shopping mall shows during school holidays. Added to this, we were thrust together whilst our raging teenage hormones were in full swing, giving all of us an unspoken connection, no matter what time, life, death or distance has thrown our way.
A similar age to each other, Dot Waaka, Kiani Cook and I would giggle our way through shows, crack up when we walked on or off stage at the wrong time, watch in amusement as a piece of our show gear inappropriately dropped off at some time on stage, and we’d observe in awe the goings on of the older kids. The Burkhardt family lived around the corner. The Wharekura, Ormsby / Rehu, Tira and Waaka clans not much further away. Unforgotten friendships with the Cook, Te Oka and Ngati families were forged.
Once we all moved on from Illuka, I relocated with Len & Sue Ormsby to Tiki Village. This meant time for the next wave of Young Polynesians to join us. It was at Tiki Village I met close friend Tim Smart who was to become my permanent dancing partner for a few years. We were also joined by newcomers like Donna McIssac, Cleveland Williams and Jenny Andrews.
Shortly before she died, I had the pleasure of spending the good part of a day with Linda Rehu. We hadn’t been in each other’s company for about 20 years, but it was like we had last seen each other only the day before. Kiani and I are the same, as are Karen, Glen and everyone else. We may not see each other for years however when we catch up in person time instantly washes away.
We are still gossiping, arguing and laughing like we were all those years ago.
We are now flung far and wide across the world. Whilst Zane is walking the red carpets of LA, Darrin is living his dream as the muso’s muso in London. Dean is coaching Rugby in Baltimore whilst Janine is teaching in Auckland. And while Karen is running her music label on the Gold Coast, I am running a media agency in Sydney. It doesn’t matter where we live, we are still linked to each other in a way that I cannot really explain.
My time with these people helped define who I am today. They were generous enough to give a shy preteen the skills and confidence to walk into a room of strangers on her own. And when I go into an important meeting, I have a whole procedure that I undertake. Learnt from getting ready to go on stage, it helps me prepare myself.
No matter how much time distances me from that period in my life I am proud to say that we have this bond that has transcended both time and distance. And, I for one, will always be thankful for the lessons learnt as one of The Young Polynesians.