It says a lot about the power of Polyfest that it has become a cultural institution in the Deep South – a cornerstone on the Southland events calendar.
Each year around 7000 tamariki, from babies right up to school-leavers, share the stage at Invercargill’s ILT Stadium Southland at a week-long festival that celebrates the sights and sounds of the Pacific.
Arriving at the stadium, you are welcomed into the darkened arena then greeted by bright lights shining on a massive stage. Schools, ready to rock us, are brought out by a series of enthusiastic MCs as parents vie for space up the front, like a sedate mosh pit, cameras and phones at the ready.
Some kids cry, others stand frozen, babies crawl around, songs heard at home for weeks are finally revealed in all their glory. The whole festival is professionally livestreamed, picking up hundreds of thousands of views. Facebook is swamped with pictures from Polyfest as Aunties and Uncles and Grandparents from around the country like and share videos and pictures of their whānau.
But more than the bright lights and the singing, the gorgeous kids and the proud grown-ups, is a deeper connection to the community and a cultural shift that now spans generations.
When Polyfest began in 2009 it was taken up by just a few primary schools. Now nearly every Early Childhood Education centre and kohanga reo, kindergarten, primary and secondary school in Murihiku take part.
Parents are involved with their schools in ways that many whānau could not have comprehended several years ago. Pākehā whanau, that may once have been reluctant to attend, leave the stadium with proud tears in their eyes.
Some come to just watch their kid perform and end up staying all day – swept up in the emotion, the power and the energy that surrounds.
Mīharo, the Trust that have run the event since day one, see it as a sign of a deeper shift within the community – Murihiku is learning to value culture. Some groups are now hiring school-leaver performers to help tutor their kapa haka and Pasifika groups – compounding the worth of Polyfest for our children.
And now, as Polyfest moves into the Southern Lakes region, this process is beginning again. Three years ago it was a handful of schools performing – now the early childhood educators are getting involved.
Polyfest is taking over the South, one region at a time, sharing culture and a shared love for our kids along the way.
While you’re here, check out what else the Deep South has to offer. Take the trip over to Stewart Island to marvel in the stary skies, take the spectacular Southern Scenic Route to view some of the unique wildlife found in The Catlins or engulf yourself in even more culture with a day trip to Riverton.