History & heritage, Things to do  |  8 Dec 2023

New Zealand athletes Sally Mene and her husband Mene Mene are looking forward to catching up with fellow competitors from the historic 1974 Commonwealth Games at a special 50th anniversary dinner in January.

The 10th British Commonwealth Games, known as the ‘Friendly Games’, took place at Queen Elizabeth II Park, Christchurch from 24 January to 2 February 1974.

A massed choir sang “Join Together” and “What the World Needs Now is Love” at the opening ceremony, while thousands watched at home on pioneering colour television broadcasts.

“We love our city and representing it at the highest level was amazing,” Sally reflects. “Walking into the stadium with the huge number of people there (35,000 at the opening ceremony) and in our own country…I was quite overwhelmed!

Sally finished 7th in the discus and 11th in the javelin, while Mene finished 6th in the two-day decathlon event.

“There weren’t many points between 2nd and 6th and it came down to the last event – the 1500m, which is not one for us Polynesians! But it was good, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

One of their strongest memories is being invited to the Royal Yacht Britannia for a luncheon hosted by Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh.

“We were a married couple competing which was quite unusual and that’s the reason we were invited,” says Sally.

Invitation and menu for the luncheon attended by Sally and Mene Mene on the Royal Yacht Britannia during the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games.

The menu was in French: Entrée of Oeufs Yorkais followed by Fillet de Boeuf Stroganoff with Carottes Vichy, Pommes Fondantes and Salade, Mousse au Café and Biscuits for dessert. 

The Friendly Games hold a special place in New Zealanders’ hearts, and not just because of Dick Tayler’s iconic victory on the opening day of the games.

Christchurch hosted 1,276 athletes from 38 countries, including African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.  These were the days before professional athletes and well-paid sports administrators.

"It was a massive job for all the officials and volunteers, to make sure that our city went on the map, so to be part of that was special,” says Mene.  

“All the countries came, New Zealand managed to get everybody together and the whole city made them welcome. Volunteers were very much involved and made them part of it, everyone got into the spirit and when Dick won the 10,00m on the opening day, it set the tone for the whole games.

“At the closing ceremony everybody was jumping up and down, even the Royals joined in, formality fell away,” remembers Mene.

New Zealand athlete Mene Mene winning the second heat of the decathlon 100 metres, followed by Sanitesi Latu (Tonga), Robert Lethbridge (Australia) and Sitiveni Rabuka (Fiji) at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games at QEII Stadium. (Christchurch City Libraries CCL-StarP-00524A)

 “It was a bigger scale than we’d been used to,” says Sally, “and the buzz carried on for a long time afterwards. They made everyone feel good and they made us very proud of our city so we’re looking forward to catching up with some of the other competitors and seeing how their lives and paths have gone. “

Christchurch Mayor Phil Mauger will attend the 50th anniversary dinner at Te Pae, Christchurch Convention Centre on Saturday 27 January.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 50 years since one of our greatest sporting events," says the Mayor. "Christchurch is rightly proud of its rich sporting history and the Commonwealth Games of 1974 are a massive part of that legacy.

“It’s going to be great to have the volunteers, organisers and competitors who helped make the Friendly Games what they were, all together in one room to connect and celebrate.”

Along with the anniversary dinner on Saturday night, there is a mix and mingle event on Friday 26 January, 5-8pm at the Christchurch Town Hall. 

Tickets are able to be purchased here.