BRUCE'S SCHOOL DAYS

An article by the late Bruce Jenkins detailing his thoughts and memories of his days at Ahuroa School.

THE AHUROA SCHOOL AS I KNEW IT
1936 - 1943

It came to my notice that in a pamphlet sent out some time ago to promote the Ahuroa school included, in a brief outline of its history,  two inaccuracies of some historical importance.  Being a promotion under the auspices of the school itself the outline as given would likely be taken by readers as authoritative of its history and on this basis these errors could come to be regarded as historical fact.  Because of this  I thought to draw attention to them and to offer the correct facts.  One of these errors related to my time at the school and this set me thinking not only about it but also about what it was like being a pupil there, one recollection prompting another and so on.  This led me to change and far exceed my original intention and to record, for what they may be worth, my recollections and impressions of being a pupil at the Ahuroa school in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Its gestation has been rather prolonged as I started it, put it aside, forgot about it and then started again.  I am not able to be specific as to the dates of the events mentioned but their sequence and their circumstances are, I think, reasonably accurate.  For the record the first of my family to attend the school was a great uncle, at the time or shortly after it enrolled its first pupils.  He was followed by my father and his five siblings from about 1900 to 1916-17.  I and my brother were the last of the family to attend, from 1936 to 1947.

Dealing with the errors in the pamphlet first - the building now known as the library was not the original Ahuroa school nor even the first classroom on the present site.  It was, in fact, a redundant school building moved down from the Kaipara Hills to provide a second classroom when the Ahuroa roll exceeded forty, the trigger at that time to warrant a second teacher.  Although I was attending the school at the time I can’t be more precise than to say this would have been about 1939-40.  It filled the function of the primer classroom under the control of the infant mistress and we referred to it as the “little school”, a reflection of both the building and of the pupils attending it. After the appointment of an infant mistress the hall was used as the primer classroom for a short time while the restoration of the “little school” was completed.

The  main classroom, the first school on the present site, or the ”big school” as we called it, was built about 1930.  This building was later moved some metres to the south and incorporated  into the present classroom complex when it was built about 1965-66.  Although no doubt internally modified, externally it is still recognisable with its steeper gable roof and distinctive double hung sash windows.  The  “little school” was left untouched to become the “library”.  There was no schoolhouse in my time, the teachers boarding with  local settlers during school terms.  The schoolhouse would have been built about 1946-7 and was first occupied by the teachers at that time, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Rogers.  It has not been moved since it was built.

The original Ahuroa school which enrolled its first pupils in 1888, was on a site well removed from the present one.  It was situated on  property then owned by the pioneer William Sanderson and presently, (in 2010), by Andrew and Sarah Goddard, at the top of what is now known as Hawken road, although at the time that road didn’t exist.  Whether by accident or design it was approximately central for the Berger, Paul and Turnwald children coming from the eastern end of the valley and the Poyner, Parker and Jenkins children from the western end, a not unimportant consideration when they all had to walk to school.  My father told me that it was a three day a week school when he attended,  the teacher walking or riding between it and Woodcocks where he taught for the other three days of the week. 

Access to it would have been by rough bush tracks, including for the children from the eastern end of the valley that steep climb from the river up the hill behind the present hall.  It is not hard to imagine these early pupils trudging along the narrow muddy bush tracks of that time on their way to school, bare footed of course and carrying their lunches in pikaus on their backs and to protect them from the rain chaff sacks, not mackintoshes, peaked cape like over their heads to cover their shoulders and backs, pulled tight across their chests and held there with a large nail or piece of string or clutched with a hand.  This then was the school my great uncle, my father and his brothers and sisters attended in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The original school remained in use until the first school on the present site was built and became available, as previously mentioned, about 1930.  The move probably came about from a desire by the local settlers to have the school sited on the main road now established along the valley floor, which by-passed the original school.  While then still a clay road the expectation would have been that it would be progressively metalled out from the railway station and this was well underway when I started school in 1936.  The new site also placed it in reasonable proximity to the small district centre based on the railway station and including the post office and the general store, with the community hall adjacent to the new school.  It also enabled the children from Woodcocks to attend it, using the existing train services.  Once again the site for the school was made available by a Sanderson, this time Alec the son of William and himself an early pupil of the original Ahuroa school. 

The original school, now redundant, was later moved to become the home of Mervyn and Chrissie Sanderson and their family and is still there today on the hillside overlooking the eastern  junction of the Komokoriki Hill and West Coast roads.  Albeit no doubt now much modified it must, at least in part, be one of the oldest buildings in the district to have been continuously occupied including, until recently, by Morris and Christine Sanderson, the great grandson and daughter in law of the pioneer William.

The school I attended, the second Ahuroa school and the first on the present site, was situated some metres north of the present classrooms and closer to the road, on what was probably then the most level part of the grounds.  In their original state these were basically a hillside, steeper at the back but levelling out somewhat at the front, where they fell off into a small gully on the side nearest the hall and generally sloped down into a swamp in the neighbour’s on the  other, with a low bluff down to the road and river at the front.  The back was fenced off as a horse paddock for those of us who rode to school and immediately in front of the fence grew a row of macrocarpas, of which only one now seems to be left.  The western end of the horse paddock would later become the site for the schoolhouse. 

Access to the grounds was by a double picket gate for the use of the riders, with a similar small pedestrian gate along side.  They were in the same place as the present entrance and accessed a formed grass road, [now sealed], which led up the hill to the horse paddock gate abutting the boundary fence with the hall.  A second small gate at the northern end of the grounds also gave access to the main road and was mainly used by the teacher on his way to and from where he boarded.  It was also used by the pupils on their way to their swimming hole in the river. 

The school building, comprising a single classroom, was in the style of its times, the library being a design replica, albeit a little smaller.  Its gabled roof was extended as a lean-to on its south western side to provide for an entrance corridor running the depth of the building on that side.  Entry was up a short set of steps to a small porch into which opened  double doors from the corridor.  These were painted green from memory and may have had glass panels in the top half.  The corridor also served as a cloakroom and the partition between it and the classroom was lined with coat hooks.  It was lit by two double hung sash windows and had a hand basin at the far end attached to a small outside tank.  Entry into the classroom was by a door opening from the corridor a short way in from the entrance, on the right.

The bare wooden floored classroom was lit by a row of  three quite large double hung sash windows.  These ran most of the length of the north eastern wall, reaching from just under the eaves down to about shoulder height.  Each was equipped with a large wooden slide sloping upward and inward from the sill.  We thought they were to stop us gazing out in class, particularly at the trains passing along the railway line - no floor to ceiling view allowed to distract our attention!  More probably they were intended to deflect any draught from the open windows over the heads of the seated children but they served the first purpose equally well.  A low blackboard with its chalk and duster ledge ran from the classroom door along that wall and continued along the length of the back wall.  The teacher’s blackboard was in the centre of the front wall.  I have only a vague recollection of the higher walls and ceiling, just an impression of their being of a somewhat heavier T & G planking than the lighter “matched lining” then in common use and laid horizontally, not vertically, as would have been the case with the latter.  It was  painted a cream colour from memory.  And oh yes, we had electric lights, supplied from a power pole on the roadside directly out from the classroom. 

The classroom probably had a capacity for about 35-40 pupils and the double desks with which it was furnished were arranged in strict regimental rows from the back to the front across the width of the room, each  row separated by a narrow isle.  Traditionally the rows nearest the corridor were occupied by the junior classes, advancing class by class across the room to Standard 6, seated in the front of the row directly under the windows.  The teacher’s table and chair were directly in front of his blackboard and on the same floor level as the desks of his pupils. 

When seated at his table the door into the corridor was on his left.  In the corner to his right was the black cast iron stove and its wood box.  This  gave the appearance at any rate of warmth during the cold months.  More importantly perhaps, it boiled the water for our winter mid-morning mug of cocoa. 

On the left of his table, in the corner by the door, was the classroom cupboard.  In the cupboard was stored  most of the paraphernalia then thought necessary for the teaching of primary school children.  It housed the school’s library consisting then of a couple of volumes of an encyclopaedia, some abridged editions of children’s classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Hereward the Wake,  Lambs’ Tales From Shakespeare etc, and a collection of the Dept. of Education’s publication, the “School Journal”.  There was the usual collection of white and coloured chalk, blackboard dusters, crayons and coloured pastels with their special paper in books of grey, green, brown and other coloured leaves. There was a large bottle of ink for replenishing our desk ink wells for the nibbed pens we used and a box of  replacement nibs for the said pens.  The New Zealand flag was also kept in the cupboard, to be taken out once a week and hoisted to the top of our flagpole while we re-affirmed our continuing loyalty to king and country - it was the war years remember.  There were other items in it, of course, for it was quite a large cupboard, although these now escape my memory. 

The flat top of the cupboard was also adorned with various objects.  There was, for instance, the 22inch, [550mm.], earth worm captured by one of the girls on its way across her chook run.  It was coiled into a large preserving jar and pickled in alcohol.  A lamprey caught in the Araparera was also pickled in a jar and kept the earthworm company on top of the cupboard for many years.  The school bell also resided up there, in the front within easy reach of the teacher.  But the piece de resistance was his metre plus long model yacht, one of several he had built at various times.  It sat in its cradle taking pride of place on the top of the cupboard, fully rigged and ready to sail - which it did once or twice when he carried it down to our swimming hole, probably to prove to us that it could !  It did. 

The wooden desks at which we sat accommodated two pupils seated side by side.  They had a sloping writing top hinged at the front to make a liftable flap.  This covered an enclosed shelf in which we kept our exercise books, pens, pencils, ruler, rubber etc.  Along the top at the front was a narrow level board to which the writing top was hinged and into which our ink wells were countersunk, one on the right and one in the centre and none for the left handed.  The china ink wells were about thirty or so millimetres in depth and diameter, slightly concaved on top with a hole in the middle for dipping the pens through.  With the nib full the pen was withdrawn from the ink well ready to write, where upon it would either drop a large blob of ink in the middle of one’s page or splatter a bomb burst over the same when the nib broke or dug into the paper, or any two or all three of these things.  The joys of pen and ink writing and the necessity for blotting paper.  Thank goodness for the ballpoints, although these may have ended the era of “copperplate” writing as we knew it.  A groove was gouged into the narrow board at the top of the desk to prevent our pens or pencils rolling down the sloping writing top which it did - sometimes.  The wooden seats were part of the desk and were hinged individually to allow each pupil to stand independently.  Along the back of the seats were one or two rails  against which we could lean without falling off backwards.

The internal furnishings of the classroom were completed by large tinted photographs of King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth in full regal dress, which hung on the wall with the corridor, alongside an enlargement of the first page of the Treaty of Waitangi, presumably the English version.  For the life of me I can’t remember a classroom clock and consequently how we told the time!  Perhaps time wasn’t important to me then. 

On the outside the school was a weatherboard structure with a corrugated iron roof,  replicated architecturally by the library building.  Its only adornment was the flag pole rising above the gable ridge in the front of the building.  There was a small water tank at the western corner providing drinking water from an outside brass tap and  to the hand basin in the corridor.  The low tank stand was enclosed and had a small door.  This was where the firewood for the stove was stored. 

A wooden slat seat ran along the north eastern side below the classroom windows.  This was the preserve of the girls during breaks, at least in fine weather.  When it was wet they were allowed the use of the corridor.  The boys had the shelter shed some 15-20 metres down the concrete path from the school steps.  The path to it was sheltered from the southwest by a privet hedge.  The shelter shed, probably about 6-7 metres long and 4-5 metres in depth, had a concrete floor and was enclosed on three sides, along which wooden  seats were fixed.  Built as a lean-to it was only partly enclosed in the front and facing the northeast it was not very comfortable when the weather came  from that direction, the rain penetrating right to the back wall.  Attached to the outside wall at one end of the shelter shed was a wire mesh rubbish basket, the repository for all kinds of trash.  This always attracted numerous birds -  sparrows, yellow hammers, wax eyes, and  finches - busily scavenging  the leftovers from our lunches and anything else they could find. 

The only other buildings were the two outhouses politely referred to as the “lavatories” by the girls or less politely but more appropriately by the boys, but not in front of the teacher, as the “dunnies”, for they were quite rudimentary, without the sophistication of  water closets, hand basins or septic tanks.  They were simply small corrugated iron sheds with a right angled entry passage, the boys’ urinal being a concrete wall incorporated into this and draining directly into the gully below.  The small roofed over part was equipped with a door and furnished with a plank seat with an appropriate hole in the middle, under which resided a largish can.  This was emptied from time to time, where and by whom I never discovered.  The boys’ was just a few metres down the concrete path from the shelter shed.  The girls‘, however, was right across the grounds by the hakea hedge behind where the library now is.  There remains a lasting impression to their use of a continual buzzing of flies, particularly in the hot months of summer.  None the less these very basic facilities served the sanitary needs of forty or more pupils, and their teachers and we all survived. The three epidemics which went through the school while I was there, measles, mumps and chicken pox, were contact not hygiene sourced. 

As already mentioned the school grounds in their original state offered little by way of level playing areas and it was not until the advent of the “little school” that there was any improvement in this, when the area between the two school buildings was levelled and a terrace formed, now partially enclosed by the high chain mesh fence.  This extended from in front of the “little school” along the north western boundary to the northern corner of the grounds then back parallel to the road fence and some 4-5 metres inside of it, to the front of the “big school”.  It also extended along the south western side to about where the present classrooms are now, to provide the amount of fill needed.  However the encroachment of the “ big school” into the area rather limited its full potential as a playing area.  None the less it was a very real improvement, although  very wet and muddy in winter.  While this all happened when I was attending the school I have no recollection of the work in progress only the result, which suggests that it was done during a term break, probably the summer holidays.  The work would have been done by horses and scoops as there were no bulldozers or other mechanical  earth moving equipment then locally available.

By 1937 the metalling of the main road up the valley from the foot of the Ahuroa/Puhoi hill to its western junction with the Komokoriki Hill road had been completed.  Although the latter was still largely clay it too was being progressively metalled, along with the side roads, by relief gangs comprised of the unemployed, who knapped,  on a piecework basis, the sandstone spawls carted from two local  quarries, one of which was immediately behind the school.  There were several relief workers’ camps along the main road, with their two man canvas roofed huts.  The quarry behind the school provided us, the pupils, with a diversion from time to time when the school would reverberate from the sound and the shock waves of a large explosion, followed moments later by a shower of stone fragments raining down on its iron roof.  This would happen at any time and without warning as the quarrymen blasted rock from the quarry face.  The metalling of the roads however made possible and led to a major event in the history of the school - the introduction of the school bus.  For those of us who previously had walked or ridden to school this was truly a marvellous innovation.

The first school bus was a 1936 -7 Ford truck chassis I think, converted to a bus, I think, by removing the back of the cab and extending a canvas roof back over the length of the tray.  Wooden sides enclosed the tray to about half way up and heavy wire mesh completed the sides to the roof.  In wet weather canvas awnings were unrolled from the top and strapped to the wooden sides to cover the open wire mesh.  A drop tailboard and a roll down canvas awning allowed direct access to the tray for the loading of goods.  To complete the setup wooden slat seats were bolted to the floor along each side of the tray and access to them was through the off-side cab door up several steps to an opening in the partition behind the driver’s seat  and thence to the deck.  The bus was painted a dark green with a white canvas top and advertised itself with a “SCHOOL BUS” sign above the windscreen.

It was owned and operated by the succession of local storekeepers, the first being the partnership of Hay and Rogers followed by Jim Goodhew and others.  It had two functions - the transport of the children to and from school and the delivery of the mail, the daily paper, bread, meat and other stores and groceries to the local settlers.  It did not, of course, deliver milk  to the settlers, who would have been aghast at the very idea of buying  bottled milk when almost without exception they produced the stuff themselves, untreated of course but with much more cream on it and only half the price!  Later the bus did, however, deliver pasteurised bottled milk from the railway to the school under the government’s  “free milk to schools” policy.  My participation in this scheme was not a happy one  as my punishment for declining to drink the stuff - I didn’t like it then and still don’t - was to be made “milk boy” with the job of getting the full crates up from the road and the empty ones back down, without obtaining any benefit from it save the unwanted exercise!  Much happier was my sharing in the free cases of apples, Granny Smiths and Delicious, distributed amongst the pupils in the winter and spring months, also delivered to the school from the railway station by the bus.

The bus made two runs twice daily during school terms, known as the “short run” up to Bergers at the eastern end of the valley and the “long run” to the western end, completing the loop over the Komokoriki hill after the metalling of this road was completed.  The children on the long run were picked up first in the morning and delivered home last in the afternoon and consequently spent somewhat more time at school than did those on the short run.  To complete the picture the long run was made in an anticlockwise direction in the mornings and clockwise in the afternoon, presumably to avoid taking a full bus over the Komokoriki hill.  The school bus as then operated was a totally practical answer to the needs of the district then and it functioned extremely well for a long time.

So far I’ve attempted to describe the physical features of the school as I knew it.  But the purpose of going to school was to provide us with the education needed for adult life.  So what was it like being a pupil there in the late 1930s and early 1940s, who were our teachers, what and how did they teach us and what did we learn?  Our academic education was, I suppose, fairly formal and disciplined.  We were there to learn the “three R’s” then thought to be the basic educational requirement needed to get us through  adult life and with the teacher’s assistance and insistence so we would.  The teachers then didn’t the benefit of the many aids to teaching now available to support their tutorage.  They had to impart their knowledge to us by  the only means that they had - talking,  a piece of chalk applied to a blackboard and a few textbooks.  It seems to me we learnt largely by listening, by copying and to a lesser extent by reading.  The value of what we were taught depended almost entirely on our being able to remember it.  We learnt some things by rote - for instance the 12 x 12 tables which were fundamental to our being able to do mathematical multiplication and division.  Memorising these was, therefore, an important part of our learning, as were the ten spelling words learnt daily in helping us to comprehend what we read and in the literacy of what we wrote.  Poetry learnt by heart was probably as much an aid to memory training as it was for the appreciation of this form of composition.

Arithmetic or, as we called it,  “sums” was based on simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  It was obviously intended to make us reasonably proficient in the practical arithmetic skills we would likely need in adult life.  Of all our subjects it was the most formal and disciplined.  An answer was either right or wrong and no marks were given for being nearly right.  The discipline in writing lay in its being readily comprehensible to those reading it.  Presumably it was for this purpose that we were taught basic punctuation and grammar, learnt our compulsory spelling and practised legible writing with the “copy books” we were given.  We practised putting all these together in the exercise of composition and the substance of its content was only one of the criteria for good marks.  Once we had graduated to “silent reading” our reading was not particularly organised and what and how much we read was largely left to us, the “School Journal” excepted.  Apart from that I don’t recall any compulsory reading.  While some read more than others we could all, with one exception, read and our ability to do so was, I suspect, being checked from time to time by our having to stand and read aloud. The one exception was a dyslectic, a condition little understood at that time and while the teacher concerned wasn’t able to help him I am glad to say he didn’t make an issue of it.  The boy was quite good at mental arithmetic and while the letters he used had no relationship to the spelling of the word the number used would often be correct and he was able to print the alphabet although not in sequence.

Other subjects were taught of course.  We were introduced to history and geography, some with a New Zealand bias and probably initiated by the School Journal.  Drawing received a share of our time as did nature study, reading aloud, recitation and singing.  The latter received much more attention as we approached the end of the third term and the annual school concert.  This was held in the hall next door and included singing, recitations and small and hopefully humorous skits, all done in fancy dress for it was a fancy dress affair - fairies and nurses, pirates and cowboys.  Being close to Xmas Santa Claus was always invited to hand out presents, mainly books previously selected by the teacher.  It was an open secret amongst us that, since Santa couldn’t possibly attend personally at the time of year, he deputised a local man, yes, you have guessed it, Alec Sanderson, lending him the full Santa regalia, including the great white beard.  Deputy Santa would arrive with appropriate “yo ho ho’s“, just before suppertime and who could blame him for arriving in time to share in a country supper of “ladies bring a plate”.

It was noticeable that the talents and interests of our various teachers over the years tended to be reflected in some of the subjects we were taught and/or the emphasis given them.  I was too young to remember much about my first teacher, Miss Alice Rockesfoot, and she didn’t teach me for long.  What I do remember was her habit of starting the day by reading from an encyclopaedia and that on more than one occasion I stood in a corner while she did so - punishment for being late for school again.  I had a problem.  If my pony didn’t want to go to school and he often didn’t, I couldn’t catch him.  He was an old horse and knew every trick in the book and what’s more could run a darn sight faster than I!  And then the school bus started - marvellous except I often found myself running to catch that drat thing too.  The trials and tribulations of a small boy in just getting himself to school!  I did, however, learn the difference between a reason and an excuse and my reason did not excuse me from standing in the corner.  Miss Rockesfoot was also, I remember, rather good at rapping knuckles with a ruler.  These things aside, however, she probably was a good teacher doing a difficult job as a sole charge mistress without readily available support and who, after retiring to marry local farmer Bob Schollum, continued to live in the district for many more years.

Her successor, Mr. Chas. Newick, was of a musical bent.  He was an accomplished musician, played several stringed instruments as well as the saxophone and clarinet.  We would often start the day with a sing along to his accompaniment on the guitar, mandolin or even the humble ukulele and I can still see him now standing with his foot up on a front desk strumming away.  He encouraged those with any musical talent and got together a small ensemble for want of a better word, based primarily on ukuleles but with the odd banjo, concertina, fiddle, jew’s harp and the like which he would accompany on one of the instruments he played.  In my case his efforts were hardly even a qualified success.  The best I could manage was to get some sort of noise by humming through a comb covered with tissue paper.  Oh well we can’t all be Nigel Kennedys can we!  Music, however, was an important part of his tutorage.

My next and last primary school teacher, Mr. W.M. [Bill] Campbell M.A. Dip Ed., was a Southland Scot born and bred about as far south as one can get, the Catlins coast where his father was a teacher.  He came to us as a demoted high school principal, for reasons we were never told.  He had a wide range of interests of which, however, music was not one but they did include nature study, geography, geology and history, particularly that of the pioneering and settlement of this country.  He had articles published on aspects of these interests and I still have a small bound copy of some of them.  His little microscope introduced me to the worlds of bacteria and vascular bundles.  He liked to play draughts at which he was not very good, and I remember even now  standing at his table during the lunch hour while he sat deliberating at length on his next move.  He would often start the morning by writing a “long tot” up  on his blackboard which he would then challenge us to beat him in adding up.  It was a challenge to which I offered no serious competition, always finishing in the “also rans” and usually with the wrong answer.

He liked to tramp and roam the countryside on the week-ends, often looking for kauri gum, fossils or other items of biological or geological interest to him.  On occasions he would lead his pupils on excursions to the top of Woodcock’s hill or, more adventurously, up over the Woodcock’s railway tunnel, along the razorback ridge, past the two high waterfalls to the old Moir home, or what remained of it, and the “trig”. 

One excursion he led some of us on is worthy of separate mention as being unusual for the times and probably a first of its kind for the Ahuroa school.  This was a visit to Auckland and came about when he found how few of his pupils had ever been to the city.  Eight or ten of us went down in two cars, driven by the locals Bill Davie-Martin and Percy Taylor.  I can’t recall the day in detail now but they drove us to Northcote, [or was it Birkenhead] where we took a passenger ferry across the harbour to the terminal on Quay St.  We then caught a tram out to

Mt. Eden which we climbed for the view over the city, its two harbours and, to us, the vast array, sprawl and complexity of buildings, roads, parks and volcanic cones  which made it up.  Had we but realised it, by looking north we would have also seen the hump on the far horizon that was Moir’s Hill.  I think we must have walked down Mt. Eden and through Newmarket because we visited the Museum after eating our lunches in the Domain. I remember being impressed by the large waka in the foyer and by the enormous moa skeletons then on display.  After looking through the Winter Gardens we walked back across Grafton bridge along Karangahape Rd. to catch a tram down Queen St. and a ferry back to Northcote, [or was it Birkenhead], to our cars for the trip home.  I have one last memory of that trip. I had been given a halfcrown, [25c], for incidental expenses.  With what was left I used somewhere along the way to buy a large bag of oranges, a fortuitous purchase as it turned out, for on arriving home I was put straight to bed with the mumps and the juice from those oranges was about all I could swallow for the next three or four days.

As a graduate W.M. Campbell was, I would think, a most unusual head teacher for a small rural school and when he first came a sole teacher school at that.  Upon qualifying for a second teacher two infant mistresses taught there in my time.  The first was Miss Tregowarth, a red headed extravert who was completing her country service and only stayed for the year.  She was followed by Miss Shirley Rogers a much more reserved person but a good teacher who taught the primers there for quite a number of years.  There were no teacher’s aids then, no secretarial assistants, no telephone, fax, whiteboards, photocopiers, projectors, videos, calculators, broadband and of course no computers.  That life could be so simple!  There were, however, blackboards and chalk and an old valve radio to which, on rare occasions when the static would allow, we could tune into the short broadcasts on the national programme called “Broadcasts to Schools”, usually singing.

Encouragement to learn took two forms and except in detail have probably changed very little over the years.  Good work earned rewards such as the V.G. and G. marks and the little indelible animals of approval stamped into our exercise books.  Poor work would earn the penalties of disapproval as can be instanced by one of my shortcomings - the failure on occasions, [well quite often actually], to learn my daily spelling.  The consequence for me was to often find myself at the blackboard writing out correctly each of  my mistakes ten times over during the mid-morning interval.  I don’t know whether it helped my spelling any but it was a good example of a punishment to fit the crime.  Lines were probably the most commonly used penalty for the lesser  disciplinary misdemeanours such as talking in class and not paying attention.

I never saw or heard of the strap being used to enforce learning discipline or punish failure.  In my experience it was reserved to reinforce the teacher’s authority in serious breaches of discipline, such as swearing, insolence or blatant disobedience.  It was accepted by us as being in the natural order of things providing a short, albeit sharp, lesson quickly over and done with but which defined very clearly the boundaries to our behaviour - or misbehaviour.  Given that it was used with discretion, and it usually was, and it was justified by the circumstances it was not resented by most of us.  As a recipient of it on more than one occasion I don’t remember having any particular problems with it and have since wondered at all the fuss about it in more recent times.  The strap  incidentally was strictly for the boys - a case of  sexual discrimination or didn’t the girls commit the crimes which warranted it?

Teachers held a unique and respected position in our small community.  For the pupils all male teachers were “Sir” and all female teachers, regardless of marital status, were “Miss”.  Their authority was never questioned by us and rarely, certainly in teaching matters, by our parents.  In retrospect I think they exercised this authority with circumspection and we responded by respecting them as adults and teachers without having any particular fear of it or them.  Next to our parents they were the adults with whom we most associated and in today’s terms they were probably something akin to role models.  At any rate there was often a desire to win their approval and we would have been devastated to have found they may have had feet of clay which. incidentally, we never did.

Talking of fear, what really did scare the devil out of us were the visits of the School Inspector.  In spite of the assurances of the teacher that it was he, not we, who was the subject of the inspection our apprehension, probably engendered by his own nervousness, seemed to reduce us to a state of near imbecility.  Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration but I’m afraid we failed to do our teacher justice on those occasions.

One school activity worthy of mention because of its more practical connotation for country boys was gardening or, more specifically, vegetable gardening.  The older boys were allocated gardening plots of several square metres each along the road fence from in front of the shelter shed to the little gate at the northern end of the grounds.  We were given the last part of one afternoon a week, from memory, to work at our gardening and of course we were free to tend them any other time outside of classes.

Most boys worked diligently and got good results.  Mine, however, were not so good.  I had drawn the poorest plot there was, the one nearest the little gate, and even the weeds had a hard time of it, added to which I could not be described as an enthusiastic gardener.  But I heard from somewhere that lupins were great soil improvers.  So each spring I would sow my plot with lupin seed.  That which managed to germinate grew, with difficulty. to about 150-200mms. in height and then produced tortured spikes of blue flowers, after which they would quietly wither away.  This left me to dig in the residue to complete my gardening year.

For me gardening was, therefore, time I could devote to other things such as reading, drawing or preparing slides and viewing them under the teacher’s small microscope.  Fortunately he didn’t seem any more interested in gardening than I was and didn’t redirect my efforts back to it.  Besides, I think he was pleased that one pupil at least showed an interest in his microscope!  I never got a better plot, I never tried, the one I had  satisfying all my gardening ambitions.  I’m not sure what the girls did during or gardening periods except that they vacated to the little school, presumably to undertake some form of home craft under the guidance of the infant mistress.

Our gardening didn’t quite end with this activity for each year in the spring we were visited by two gentlemen, one of whom was a potato devotee and the other a sweet pea enthusiast.  The first would hand out half a dozen seed potatoes to each of us with instructions on how and when to plant them and how we could double their number by dividing them - something to do with their “eyes” as I remember.  The other would hand out sweet pea seeds, again with instructions as to their planting and tending.  This seemed to include digging a deep trench and filling it with manure, (sheep, cow or horse), and other nutritional goodies in which to sow the seed.  Having no desire to dig deep trenches for sweet peas or mould up rows of Sutton Supreme, Cliff Kidney, Red Dakota, Pukekohe Short Top or any other variety of potato, I was happy to pass these offerings on to keener and more able gardeners than myself!

As one final note on our gardening activities we once tried our hands at a little landscaping when, under the direction of W.M. Campbell, we dammed and dug out the small seepage from the gully where it emerged down by the road boundary.  We crossed the resulting pond with a rustic bridge, via a small island in the middle, as an extension of the path down to the main gate from the shelter shed.  We planted some native trees, which we brought from home, down both sides of the path, a few of which, some totara and a kahikatea, have survived and now sixty five years on are quite large trees.

In addition to the school concert previously mentioned two other school events occurred on an annual basis.  They were the school picnic and the Calf Club day.  Both involved the local families - not that there were so many of us then.  I can’t now remember in which term the picnic was usually held but suspect it was early in the first.  It was always held locally because of transport difficulties for some, including petrol rationing, and because almost everyone had to get home to milk.  My first recollections of it was when it was held on a small flat adjacent to the Ahuroa road on the farm of the late Jack Becher.  There was a small creek on one side of it and a low hillside on the other rising up to his boundary with his neighbour, the late Jack Rauner, whose property is now part of Lothlorien.  A row of pine trees grew along the boundary and they are still there, as is the gateway into the paddock from the road, but the old gate has been replaced.

The venue was later changed to an even smaller flat between the river and the junction of the West Coast and Ahuroa roads, adjacent to the bridge on the road to Woodcocks, (a wooden truss bridge then and much lower).  It was a pleasant shady spot for a picnic amongst the grove of rimu, totara, kanuka with the odd kahikatea, mamaku and cabbage tree, still much the same now as it was then except the trees are bigger now.  Trestles were placed under the trees for the picnic fare prepared and brought by our mothers and now covered with muslin and tea towels awaiting lunchtime.  Around these the ladies would gather, fussing over the food and using the time to catch up on the local gossip.  The fathers, on the other hand, would likely be gathered in serious discussion around the copper that boiled the water that made the tea for the picnic.  The custodian of the copper was, as always, the late Jack Berger, the then owner of the picnic site, and the subjects under discussion would almost certainly be the weather, the guaranteed price for butterfat, the state of the roads and the government, probably in that order.

Meantime the picnic events would get underway but because of the trees they were rather circumscribed.  The older boys had to run right around the picnic area dodging the trees for their races but most of the events were restricted to the short length of grass, (still there), alongside the road fence.  A swing was always erected at the end nearest the bridge and the challenge for the boys was to get it to swing up as near to the horizontal as their nerve would allow.  In spite of its not having been inspected and approved by OSH our swing, often with two up, withstood this exuberant use without incident.

The events at the picnic were the usual races relative to age and sex and of course those hardy old perennials the sack, three-legged and the egg and spoon.  The adults had their races too, the most memorable being the married ladies’ race when our and our friends’ mothers sprinted for the tape, dresses tucked up into their bloomer legs, all to our great amusement.  At the earlier venue, where there was more room, some of the men would bring their horses for the stockwhip and tilting the ring competitions - neither any longer in vogue, more is the pity, for they were really quite skillful events, done on horseback at a flat gallop.

The school Calf Club day also involved the parents, or at least those of the pupils showing calves.  It was held in the late spring always in association with the local ladies who also used the occasion to hold their Annual Flower Show in the hall.  While each event was separate, together they made for a day which involved most of the community.  Calf Club would have started about the time I was in the early standards, whether as a Department of Education or Agriculture initiative, or both, I don’t know, but it was strictly for the calves.  It was not a pets’ day.  I’m not sure why it was started but if it was to give us country kids experience in the rearing and handling of calves most of us did this as one of our springtime before and after school chores anyway.

Calf club day started with the collection of all the competing calves and transporting them to school.  In the early days much of this was undertaken by my father in his 1928 Chevrolet 15cwt. truck.  Almost all the calves were of dairying origin as almost all settlers milked cows.  It was also a time when the national dairy herd was undergoing change, from the predominantly dual purpose and heavier Shorthorn to the lighter sole purpose milking cow, the Jersey.  As a consequence the calves were divided into two classes; the heavy and the light breeds.  Shorthorns and any calf showing beef breed characteristics were the heavy class and the Jerseys and Ayrshires were the light.  There were no Friesian herds in the valley in those days, they didn’t come until later.  The calves in each class were judged on the three aspects of breeding, rearing and handling and the judges in my time were Mr. Avelin Carran, a local stock agent, and Mr. Grange Melville, an Ayrshire breeder of Matakana.  The winners of the various classes would later compete in Warkworth with others from the primary schools of the (old) South Rodney.

Calf Club day was the culmination of quite a lot of effort put into the rearing, handling and grooming of the calves over the spring months, by the pupils showing them.  And, of course, calves being temperamental animals, there was always the possibility of disappointments, like the calf which led perfectly the day before simply refusing to do so on the day.  The day also had the potential for intense and even acrimonious rivalry between the fathers when both the efforts of their offspring and the quality of their stock were being judged in open competition one against another.  It says a lot that this didn’t happen - at least the judge usually got away unscathed!  The fathers, it would seem, were content to look on, yarning and smoking in friendly rivalry and discussing, you’ve guessed it, the weather, the guaranteed price, the roads and the government.  At the end of a long day they would collect their tired children and take them home, some happy, some a little disappointed, while my father collected their equally tired calves, some beribboned, some not, and delivered them back to their various homes also.

There was one extra-curricular occasion possibly worthy of mention, the result of our teacher rashly accepting a challenge from the Kaipara Flats school to a game of rugby.  He must have been out of his mind; we didn’t even have a football for goodness sake, let alone any idea of how to play the game.  Neither did he incidentally.  Kaipara Flats went into the game firm favourites.  After all, their teacher was a rugby enthusiast, they had played the game before and had a flat ground to practice on.  They also had a football!  We lacked these advantages.  It was a home game for us and our only advantage was that the field was the side of a hill, one of the late Jack Langman’s cow paddocks actually, up Clifford  road.  The Kaipara Flats boys weren’t used to that!  None the less, even with this advantage the result was a foregone conclusion - the favourites won.  So far as I can remember there was no return game, possibly Kaipara Flats thought we were unworthy competition or our teacher had learned his lesson or the war intervened or something.

Our scholastic activities at primary school culminated with the Proficiency Certificate at the end of the Standard 6 year.  But in retrospect this now seems to me to have been only part of our primary schooling and our playtime activities were also an integral part of our education.  This was where we learnt to interact with our peers and began building our social skills.  It was where we learnt how to make friends, were exposed to competition, rivalry and possibly bullying and where we experienced both winning and losing.  It was also the place where any athletic or sporting abilities may have started to develop, been recognised and encouraged.

At Ahuroa, however, we suffered two limiting factors in respect to the latter.  Firstly, in my time we had no teachers with any particular interest in sport and they made little attempt to foster it - the rugby match against Kaipara Flats excepted.  Again, even when expanded following the advent of the second classroom, the level playing area did not provide for the playing of the traditional team games.  While scholastic activities were organised, disciplined and directed by a teacher, our play and games were not.  We were largely left to our own devices and our playtime activities usually resulted from our own initiatives and inventiveness.  Because of this, a large hole in the Araparera river would become an important extension to our playground.

Our swimming resulted from two boys, while waiting for the bus one sultry summer afternoon, taking an illicit dip amongst the willow roots in the river across the road from the school gates.  From this small beginning swimming became our major single playtime activity while I was at school.  In those days our teachers, parents and we were blithely unaware of the possible consequences of swimming in a river into which drained the effluent of a number of cowsheds and their associated pigsties upstream from our swimming pool!  What we didn’t know didn’t worry us nor, it would seem, harm us for over the years we swam there no casualties resulted from the presumably polluted and certainly untreated water.  Maybe providence does looks after the innocent.  The river is ever so much more pristine now than it was then but without swimming our school days would have been much less complete.  Swimming was the one playtime activity in which everyone could join and almost without exception everyone did.  It occupied our lunch hours from December to the end of March and even early April.  It was not organised or taught but learners had a small pool in the Clifford’s creek tributary in which they learnt and practiced their “dog paddling”.  When sufficiently proficient and confident they would graduate to the “big pool” where they would probably attempt, as their first challenge, to qualify for their 25 yards (22m.) distance certificate.

For the rest we generally did as we wanted.  This could be jumping off the highest part of the bank for the biggest splash, (boys only) or, more sedately, practising more sophisticated strokes than the dog paddle we all started off with, (girls usually).  Others might be practising their diving from high off the bank, (no springboard), or swimming for a distance certificate.  It was pretty much the norm for Standards 5 and 6 pupils to have achieved the longest distance certificate then issued, the 880 yards (800 m.).  Swimming was the only sporting activity which rewarded our achievements in this way and was important to us because of it.

Provided courtesy of the Araparera, just below the Clifford road bridge, the murky waters of our pool were deep.  Other than the shelving rock under the bridge, which we didn’t use, there were only two narrow and short clay ledges, one on each side, from which we could scramble out up the bank.  We never did plumb its dark depths and discover its bottom and, in truth, we really didn’t want to.  Goodness knows what was down there - a taniwha maybe - eels for sure, big ones probably.  At the end of the season we would sometimes hold swimming sports - nothing grand, no parents or spectators, just an afternoon with a few races across the pool, with the biggest splash and the neatest dive completing our swimming for the year.

Of course the several months spent swimming in our lunch hour didn’t fill our play time for the year by any means.  This we did in various other ways.  I can’t speak for the girls, except for swimming we didn’t share in their play nor they in ours, but I do remember them playing hopscotch on the concrete rectangle in front of their seat under the classroom windows and they spent a lot of time skipping.  They played “knuckle bones” and used to throw sticks at each other sometimes when sitting crosslegged on the ground and sometimes when standing.  After the levelling of the playground they found room to play “rounders” but they didn’t have a basketball hoop - they didn’t have a basketball anyway!  (The name “netball” wasn’t in use then.)  I seem to remember some of them playing with “yoyos” but the “hula hoop” had yet to be invented.  We, as is the habit of small boys, spent much of our time just fooling around with lots of running, shouting, laughter and general exuberance.  We would wrestle on the grass in front of the shelter shed, usually good naturedly but sometimes things would get a little too serious and tempers would flare.  We spent time practicing our “monkey swinging” hand over hand across the rafters of the shelter shed, especially if it was wet.  The object was to make as many crossings as we could without having to touch down on the seats at either end.  It was great for the biceps too!

Once, I remember, we tried vaulting onto the roof at the back of the shelter shed but this came to an abrupt end when the pole broke, impaling a boy’s shirt but not the boy.  This left us with a problem - we no longer had a vaulting pole!  We tried marbles at various times but most of us only had few and these we either lost in the long grass or to better players.  You could always tell the latter, they were the ones with a self satisfied smirk who carried around little cloth bags pulled tight at the top with a string and full of marbles - ours mostly.

We whittled tops out of used cotton reels and pushed meat skewers, pointed at one end, through the hole in the centre as a pivot.  These we spun on the concrete of the shelter shed floor and a pinhead inserted into the point of the pivot improved their performance considerably.

We made whistles from the green spring bark of the basket willows which then grew in abundance in the river across the road from the school gates.  By cutting the bark between the nodes it, with a gentle hammering, could be twisted off as a tube.  The now debarked stem was then used to fashion a mouthpiece for the tube and a stop for the other end.  The note made by the whistle depended on its length and diameter.  They had a limited life as the bark shrivelled and we had to keep making new ones.

Then there was the time we acquired a number of discarded desk tops.  Where they came from I don’t know but we pointed and bevelled them at one end to make sleds and polished the bottoms with either candle grease or beeswax.  By sitting on them with our feet up we could toboggan down the slope into the head of the little gully at great speed on the summer dry and very slippery danthonia, which grew on the steepest part of the hillside above the present classrooms.  The object was to see who could go the greatest distance.  Our sleds were named for the famous racing drivers of the era: the only two I can now remember being Malcolm Campbell and Alan Cobb.  And of course we used the row of macrocarpas below the horse paddock for our jungle gym from time to time, to practise our tree climbing skills.

The levelling of the grounds between the two school classrooms, or more particularly the lovely yellow pug clay this revealed, offered other playtime opportunities.  One of these was to glissade down the steep clay bank, left at the back of the excavation, on our bare feet without losing our balance, when it was nice and slippery during or after rain, an activity not, I think, entirely appreciated by our mothers.  Then there was our “mud throwing” interlude.  This has nothing to do with the political activity.  It was simply a method we devised to propel small balls of clay long distances through the air by flicking them off the end of  a stick at the end of an overarm throw.  To judge the distance we needed a target and the hall roof was ideal.  Not only could we hear them when they landed but we could see them splatter when they hit.  So we would stand on the edge of the excavation, near where the present classrooms are, mould little clay balls between the palms of our hands, impale them on the end of a pointed stick and let fly at the hall roof.  It involved the basic elements of artillery ranging - elevation and direction.

This activity had an unfortunate consequence, one we certainly hadn’t foreseen.  To explain:  for several years before World War 2 the district was visited annually by three travelling salesmen who called themselves the “City Drapers”.  Once a year they would set up in the hall for three days offering goods for sale, mainly drapery and manchester.  They were kindly gentlemen, letting us play their pinball machine during our lunch hour and while waiting for the bus after school.  And they were well patronised by the settlers who found their visits convenient.  On the last day of their visits, as a gesture of good will, they would invite us, the kids next door, to a lolly scramble which was appreciated as such treats didn’t come our way very often.  On this occasion, on the morning of their departure, the teacher answered a knock on the school door anticipating the usual invitation.  However at the time of this particular visit we were still engaged in our mud throwing activity and it was one of the partners to tell him that throughout their stay we children had been bombarding the hall roof with stones, which they took to be an expression of anti-Jewish sentiment and that as a result there would be no lolly scramble this time.  We were astounded.  All we been doing was carrying on our game as usual and we had no intention and certainly no desire to offend these gentlemen.  We were hardly aware, if at all, of their different ethnicity and even if we had been it wouldn’t have bothered us.  After all we lived in a community founded on two different ethnic and religious backgrounds and it didn’t worry us.  Our sin was schoolboy thoughtlessness.  The continuing thud of our clay missiles, which they mistook for stones, landing on the hall roof during our playtimes over the several days of their stay caused them concern and they attributed it to the only reason that occurred to them.  How sad that our game, in all innocence, was the cause of this.  In the event we didn’t get the opportunity to explain and apologise for they never came back to Ahuroa not, I would like to think, because of our schoolboy indiscretion but as a result of the war and the rationing and restrictions it brought.

Our teacher, Mr. Campbell, as I have mentioned built large scale model yachts as a hobby.  This was fine and we all admired the one on display on the top of the cupboard.  But then he got the idea that the boys of Standards 5 and 6 could put their playtime to better use than lobbing mud onto the hall roof by making similar models for themselves.  The first step in making such a model was to get a suitable log of wood of appropriate length and diameter. The Davie-Martin boys, Peter and Lionel, had access to a recently logged stand of kauri on their farm, from which they obtained very suitable timber for the purpose from the discarded kauri heads.  They offered two of us, Jimmy Smith and me, the same opportunity.  So one fine Saturday morning the four of us set out with our lunches, an axe and some rope for the site of the worked out kauri.  To get there we had to walk quite a long way up a bush track down which the logs had been hauled to the roadside skids by bullocks, part of which passed through a neighbour’s property, a bush covered valley floor.  Well we didn’t get to the site of the worked out kauri stand.  I suppose it was hot, much further than we thought and we got tired.  So when we came on a nice straight kahikatea of the right dimensions for Jimmy’s and my needs right beside the track we chopped it down .  We cut off a length sufficient for our two models and dragged it out to the roadside, from where it was transported to the school, although how I have no idea.  For this misappropriation of one kahikatea sapling I can now only offer a belated, in fact a posthumous, apology to its owner, the late Carl Wilson.

For the next three or four months every interval and lunch hour was spent in transforming those logs into model yachts.  The shelter shed was our workshop and the floor was covered in wood chips and shavings as we wrought out the hull shapes, first with tomahawks and then rasps and spokeshaves.  We then hollowed out the inside with chisels and gouges to leave a hull about 10-12 mms. in thickness.  A lead keel was then attached by screws through the bottom of the hull before a full plywood deck was tacked and glued on to make it fully watertight.  From here on it was all finishing work using lots of sandpaper and elbow grease in preparation for painting.  I painted mine green below the waterline with white topsides and a varnished deck.  Finally a mast was stepped and stayed and a bowsprit and boom attached.

To complete it I was able to persuade my mother to sew the sails out of unbleached calico, a mainsail and jib, and it was ready for launching.  I never did sail it seriously, lack of a suitable pond was probably the main reason.  But I’ve still got it.  It sits in its cradle on the top of one of my workshop shelves, without sails now, they have been used for other things long ago - it’s over sixty five years since I built it.  And yes, it still floats; I tried it out not long ago in a water trough just to reassure myself.  Its building was an interesting and absorbing diversion from our normal playtime activities.

The levelling of the playground, in so far as it went, did increase our scope for play and over time we did acquire some, but never all, of the gear needed for the more traditional games.  The limitations of the grounds, of course, wouldn’t allow us to play them in the way intended and without coaching we didn’t learn their basic skills or tactics or even their rules.  So when we did acquire a rugby ball we simply booted the thing about without any particular aim.  But then we didn’t have any goalposts, sidelines, try lines or any other rugby field trimmings, quite apart from a pitch which was probably less than 50 yards long and 25 yards wide.

Similarly with cricket.  I think we only ever had one bat at any one time and one set of stumps with an apple box as a standby.  We didn’t bowl the ball, we simply threw it overhand at our one wicket as hard and as fast as we could.  More often than not we played with a tennis ball and a large part of our time was spent looking for the wretched thing in the hakea hedge or the neighbour’s paddock.  On one of the few times we actually had a genuine red leather cricket ball - goodness knows where it came from - it fell to me to put it through one of the corridor window panes.  The teacher wasn’t too pleased but I had no idea where the ball would go when I succeeded in hitting it, which wasn’t often.  I remember the incident rather well because of the other kids rushing to tell the teacher “please sir, Bruce broke the window” - the rats!  Anyway it was a beautiful hole, barely larger than the ball and almost perfectly round.  Those two corridor windows were quickly protected with wire netting but the hole in the pane remained for quite some time, a continuing reminder of my prowess with a bat and a real cricket ball and the only “boundary” I ever hit in a short and undistinguished cricketing career.

Our hockey interlude began when some kind (anonymous) person left a number of well-used hockey sticks at the school which we promptly put to good use.  Of course the fact that we lacked goals, sidelines, etc., that our ball was the good old reliable tennis ball and that we had no knowledge of the rules or how the game was played didn’t deter us in the least.  We simply belted the ball up and down our part of the playground trying to stop anyone else from getting it.  Our version probably resembled Banjo Paterson’s “Geebung Polo Club” much more closely than a game of hockey, except that we didn’t usually leave the field littered with the dead and dying!  Eventually of course with our hard use the already battered sticks unravelled and fell apart and so ended our version of the game of hockey.

I have sometimes wondered if there was any connection between our acquisition of those hockey sticks and the fact that Ernie Rogers, one of the partners in the local store, played hockey and in fact was a Rodney rep.  In those pre-war days Rodney hockey was a force to be reckoned with and quite capable of holding its own against visiting national sides.  The whole school was taken to see Rodney play touring Indian hockey teams at the Warkworth Show Grounds on several occasions and I still recollect the Indians some bearded, some with white bows tied in their hair on top of their heads and others wearing turbans while playing.  I don’t know whether our attendance was for educational purposes or to support our local rep. but on these occasions we were taken to Warkworth in the school bus driven by the other partner in the store, Doug Hay.  He was fairly deaf, possibly an advantage for a school bus driver and no disadvantage for us!  He had an unconventional way of crossing the railway line at Woodcocks.  He would simply hold the horn hard down on approaching the crossing and leave it there until he, we and the school bus were safely across!  It must have worked because we always made it and there were a lot more trains using the line then.

Other occasions I remember going to Warkworth in the school bus were to celebrate the accession of Edward VIII to the throne on the death of his father, George V, and, with his subsequent abdication, the coronation of his brother, George VI, as King.  On each occasion we were presented with painted tin badges of these regal personages to pin to our shirts. 

We were, of course, the children of the war years and experienced the implications of this, like the rationing of food, clothing and petrol.  I can remember quite clearly our ration books and their pages of little coupons with perforated edges for easy removal as they were used up.  The chimes of “Big Ben” striking 12 o’clock became very familiar to us and we quietly rejoiced when we had news of a victory and felt the anguish of defeat.  As part of the community we joined in farewelling the local men on “final leave” before going overseas, all known to us and most past pupils of the Ahuroa school.  We were saddened by those posted as “missing” or, with greater finality, “killed in action”, some really not that much older than ourselves.

For a time we lived with the possibility of a Japanese landing in this area, ideal as it would have been for isolating the city and ports of Auckland and there were several false alarms.  Most local settlers in the district took the precaution of building huts or shelters in areas of bush in the hope that any fighting would by-pass their families.  Along the road through the valley “road blocks” of large pine logs were built, usually on the approaches to bridges, ready for immediate placement if needed.  From the school grounds we watched the “Home Guard”, comprised of our fathers and men too old or unfit to be conscripted into the armed forces, some of them veterans of the First War, parading and drilling on the old clay tennis courts above the hall, and listened to their horrific battle cry of “in - out - on guard” as they plunged their bayonets into hard packed sacks of hay in practice. 

Fortunately they weren’t called on to defend us for the invasion, when it came, was by friendly forces, men of the American marines and army, who were camped in large numbers in southern Rodney on their way to fight in the Pacific.  Although we saw them in large numbers on our infrequent visits to Warkworth there were no camps in Ahuroa and our direct contact with them was limited.  But from the school we did see the many trains bringing supplies up to their main depot at Kaipara Flats from the wharves of Auckland, each train shunting backwards down  the line to the turnstile at Helensville on its return.

Three important events directly relating to the school occurred while I was there - four if we count the emergence of swimming as a major playtime activity.  The other three were the introduction of the school bus, the school’s elevation to two teacher status and the levelling of part of the playground.  When I started we all either walked or rode to school, a state of affairs which lasted until the metalling of the roads permitted their use by motor vehicles under all weather conditions.  The practical limitations to the distance small children could be expected to walk, imposed by the terrain and the conditions of the roads or tracks they used, gave rise to small local schools serving small local communities, e.g. Kaipara Hills and Kourawhero.  The advent of the school bus eliminated that need and resulted in their redundancy, their pupils being bussed to bigger or more central schools, to wit Kaipara Hills to Kaipara Flats, Kourawhero to Warkworth.

Being isolated by the hill roads to Woodcocks and Puhoi and being some distance from any other school this didn’t happen in Ahuroa.  Because the school bus served only the local school all the primary children in the district attended it and continued to do so for the next 35-40 years, the valley supporting a two teacher, Primer 1 to Form 2 school of up to forty plus pupils for much of that time.  This, of course, is no longer the case and hasn’t been since the mid 1970s, when a number of local children were taken away to get their primary schooling elsewhere, a result of dissention among parents as to the teaching their children were receiving.  This, followed by the loss of Forms 1 and 2 to Mahurangi College, seems to have detracted from the importance of the school to the district, particularly to the sense of local community it once engendered and this saddens me, parochial and all though this may be.  It is not, however, the purpose of this essay to philosophise.

Again, because of the constraints to small children walking or riding to school before the advent of the school bus many, if not most of us, didn’t start until we were six and, of course, there were no pre-schooling facilities available then.  The minimum age for leaving school was fourteen and for parents wanting a secondary education for their children there was no alternative but to board them away.  There was no means of attending the Warkworth District High School on a daily basis from Ahuroa before about 1950 and a direct school bus connection with it didn’t occur until even later

How well did the school equip me for adulthood?  Well, I left able to read and write, do basic arithmetic and with some grounding in basic general knowledge and from this was able to acquired the knowledge and skills I needed to do the things I wanted to do in adult life.  So yes,  I think my schooling at Ahuroa was adequate for its purpose and the times.  I also think I probably enjoyed going to school there, at least I have no recollection of not doing so.

The area in which we were least well catered for was probably in sport but, to put this in perspective, sport wasn’t nearly so important then.  We were just recovering from the “great depression” and almost immediately after engaged in a world war, neither providing a climate conducive to the development of sporting interest and importance, such as has since occurred in the last half of the past century, aided and promoted by the advent of television.  There were other and more urgent things to attend to then.

It is now over seventy years since my first day at the Ahuroa school and no doubt this lapse in time has caused me to forget much of what happened and mellowed the memories I still have of being a pupil there.  This attempt to recapture some of the ambience of attending it is qualified accordingly.  It might however provide a basis of sorts for a comparison of going to school then with that of today, each responding to and the product of the needs and fashions of its times.

Bruce Jenkins
February 2010