Jill Nicholas

News that work's begun on demolishing the Soundshell has invariably jogged memories of the numerous uses to which it has been put.

But one fact that's failed to rate a mention is that the construction of neither the original nor present structure were ratepayer-funded, unlike our public facilities today.


The money required to build the two Soundshells was raised by an organisation known as the 30,000 Club, made up of public-spirited members of the business community who dedicated themselves to providing amenities for what was, in the late 1940s, still a relatively small town.

The first facilities they provided were Plunket and restrooms in Pukuatua St.

As our late great historian Dr Don Stafford recorded in his book, The New Century in Rotorua, the club moved on to constructing a Soundshell. No self-respecting holiday hot spot of the era was without one.

Work on ours commenced at the end of November 1947. Although not quite finished its first concert was staged there the following February ... fast work, indeed.

A decade on the structure had deteriorated so badly a replacement was urgently required. Again the 30,000 Club stepped in.

According to Stafford, the replacement Soundshell (the one now under demolition) sited on a slightly different location and angle, was used for the first time on Boxing Day 1958 when Rotorua's always popular Christmas-New Year lakefront festivities began with a concert provided by Guide Kiri's concert party.

As Stafford writers: "The old Soundshell provided one last service on New Year's Eve when it became the core of the traditional bonfire."

Looking further forward to the period immediately following the 1979 amalgamation of Rotorua's city and county councils.


It was a move that resulted in such a large number of councillors that neither existing council chamber was large enough to accommodate them.

Enter the Soundshell where meetings were held until the completion of the present council building widely known at the time as "Keaney's Castle", a tilt at the county chairman the late John Keaney who deposed city mayor, the late Ray Woolliams, to lead the newly formed Rotorua District Council.

As for those Soundshell meetings, who attending could forget them?

Many were held in virtual darkness for the simple reason so many lights so close to the lake attracted swarm upon swarm of flies.

Councillors complained they weren't able to open their mouths without netting a throat full of them. Inevitably there were those who said that was no bad thing.

Councillor Trevor Maxwell, then a relative newbie at the decision-making table, remembers those times well – as do I, a Radio Geyserland journalist attempting to cover proceedings by torchlight.

Ah, dem were the days. Our Soundshells and their history have served us well, as did the 30,000 Club.