Looking back at the Radiant Hall

If our past exhibitions at Ashburton Museum can highlight how a magnificent story can come from just one object, this is particularly true with the Radiant Hall exhibition.

While Meet You At the Radiant Hall ran way back in 2017, we were once again reminded of it with our exhibition, Ashburton: Feels Like Home from 2019, which featured many objects from throughout the district and the stories they bring to life.

Meet You at the Radiant Hall started out with just one object: the old yellow and red sign that spelled out the name of the venue.

The end result coming away from the exhibition was nearly a book of stories as people filled in the gaps of the hall’s social history.

While the hall was opened in the 1930s and demolished in 1996, the memories stayed with the people who enjoyed their time at the Radiant Hall.

The hall building was once home to Cookson’s stables, but it soon turned into a popular spot for the people of Ashburton to gather for a range of occasions.

A soldier’s banquet in June 1937 is an example of the many occasions that saw the hall packed to capacity.

Important events include when Labour politician Clarence Farrington Skinner spoke to a large crowd at the hall in 1951, and when a meeting was held in the hall in 1960, which saw the creation of the Mid-Canterbury Operatic Society. Even Governor-General Brigadier Sir Bernard Fergusson in 1964 made an appearance at the hall.

One of the more interesting events that occurred at the Radiant Hall were the boxing tournaments held in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with a few matches having occurred earlier on, like one match in 1938 between Les Adams and Johnny Foster.

The tournaments drew large crowds but they weren’t the most popular thing to do at the Radiant – that was definitely dancing.

Dancing the night away

The 1960s were a time when dancing became less formal and more fun.

Even in little old Ashburton dances like the Freddie, the Locomotion, the Mashed Potato, the Shimmy and the Twist took over the dance halls, and in particular the Radiant Hall.

Being held every Saturday night, people recall arriving on a push bike with their hair carefully wrapped up under a scarf, and smoothing down their homemade dress made especially for going out, paired with stiletto shoes.

Dance cards were used by the bands performing to announce the next dance, some examples included the Fox Trot, Monte-Carlo Waltz, One Step, Medley, Destiny and Gypsy Tap.

The photos that come from the dance hall at this time are full of happy, young, energetic youth having the time of their lives and most likely meeting their future partners!

Dancing brought people together and created great memories to look back on. Just one example out of many was Laurie Cromie of Rakaia, who met the girl who would become his wife one Saturday night in 1950 at the Radiant Hall, becoming married just one year later.

Peter Posa was a popular and well-known name in New Zealand in the 1960s. With hits like Wheels, The White Rabbit and Guitar Boogie, he was a big star when he came to the Radiant Hall for his headlining concert in 1963.

His golden guitar and good looks saw people twisting the night away in beautiful dresses and dancing attire. 

He had caused some controversy with his album “The White Rabbit and Other Tunes For Playboys,” no doubt it would have been thrilling to see him perform live for the teens who were also going through stages of breaking the rules.

By Rosie Twamley

This article originally appeared in the Ashburton Guardian, 28th of October 2019.


1. Garments and images in Meet You at the Radiant Hall exhibition, 2017.

2. A full crowd in for a boxing match at the Radiant

3. Group at the Radiant Hall, 1950s. From left: Russell & Irene McLachlan, Bev & Bill McLachlan, Noelene & Tom Doak.

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