The following account was written by Trish Simpson who took part in the first Orange Festival:
In 1961 Ada Parnwell, local businesswoman and Borough Councillor, formed a committee to promote Tauranga by means of an Orange Festival. The first Festival took place in August of that year. Local businesses were called upon to enter a float in the parade which would travel from one end of Cameron Road to the other, some of the floats conveying the chosen festival ‘princesses’ to Tauranga Domain. I have very good reason to remember the parade that first year as I was one of the ‘Princesses’ on a Float sponsored by the Bay of Plenty Times where I was employed at the time.
An enthusiastic group of my male colleagues at the BOPT decided on a design for the float and worked nights building a huge papier maché ‘orange’ atop a very old, small car. As the date drew near, I had a few reservations about this car and its ability to negotiate the full length of Cameron Road with its extra weight. My biggest worry however was how on earth I was expected to climb to the top of this ‘orange’. I was to represent the green stem at the top of the orange and was appropriately dressed in a full-length green dress. “No problem” I was told by one of the employees. His parents owned what was then the Racecourse Motel which being a two storied building had a balcony on the upper floor. The plan was that I should climb over the balcony rail and on to the seat concealed inside the top of the orange. I duly accomplished this with a little help from my friends. Having achieved this feat, it was a simple matter to get our float into position outside the Racecourse ready to join the Parade for the procession to the Tauranga Domain. Local businesses had come out in force to support the venture with many floats entered.
Much to my surprise our car made it to the Domain without incident, carrying myself as well as, on the lower level, three other girls employed at the Bay of Plenty Times. It was a beautiful August day and I recall becoming sunburned on the very slow journey down Cameron Road.
No thought had been given to the problem of exiting this illustrious position atop the orange and on arrival at the Domain and in front of an interested crowd of onlookers, I made a very unladylike half slide, half fall down the slope of the ‘orange’. Not so easy in a full-length gown although one of the gallant males was poised ready to catch me!
During the weeks prior to the Float parade the sponsored ‘princesses’ were required to present themselves at the Odeon Theatre (then sited on the corner of Elizabeth Street & Devonport Road), to answer questions about the Bay of Plenty put to us by the Manager of the Theatre, at that time – a Mr Pat McBrearty. After individual question and answer sessions we then appeared on stage in front of an audience. For this appearance we were required to dress in an outfit pertaining to a particular season of the year. I must stress here that it was not a beauty contest, the aim was to select a competent ambassadress for the Bay of Plenty.
Various events took place during the week prior to the day of the float parade. These included a fashion parade, needle in the haystack, soapbox derby and various other contests in which the local people could take part. A week of lunchtime events held in The Triangle at the bottom of Devonport Road were referred to in the local “Photo News” after subsequent Festivals as “Triangle Hi Jinks”. The highlight of the festival was the festival ball held at the Town Hall. One of the events staged as part of the Orange Festival was Highland Games – a very popular day.
The 1961 winner who was crowned in a ceremony at the Domain was Patricia Barclay. The prize for those first few years was a modest one - a wardrobe of clothes of a particular value and a trip to the Hastings Blossom Festival. In later years the Californian city of San Bernardino became a sister city for this event and a trip to California was the winner’s prize with Tauranga reciprocating by hosting the Californian Queen. The festival gained a great deal of support and each year more local businesses joined the float parade turning out some amazing floats which competed for a prize.
The festival was a valuable promotional event bringing many people to the area, thanks to Ada Parnwell and her Committee who worked hard to get the festival up and running. Eventually the festival was renamed “Bay of Plenty Citrus Festival” and continued successfully for more than twenty years.