SWIMMING AT AHUROA

The following is an article by the late Bruce Jenkins on swimming becoming a 'sport' at the Ahuroa School
in their new found 'pool' in the creek immediately below the Clifford’s Road bridge,
where the Araparera River is first deflected along the base of Woodcock’s hill .

Photos from Toni & Noel Sanderson.


Swimming at the Ahuroa School – 1938 to 1944 (or thereabouts)

The site of the present school, the second, (the first being at the top end of Hawken Rd on the right hand side on land made available by William Sanderson), was in my time virtually all hillside with little by way of flat playing area and no scope for team or organised games.

We made our own forms of play which, for the boys, was comprised largely of “all in wrestling” and “monkey swinging” from rafter to rafter across the shelter-shed and skipping and hop-scotch for the girls. When the second classroom arrived from the Kaipara Hills the area between the two rooms and extending out toward the “little” gate onto the road was levelled.  This allowed the girls to play rounders and the boys a form of (very) short field tennis ball hockey, at least while the (very) secondhand hockey sticks bequeathed to the school lasted.  We also played a form of single wicket tennis ball cricket but much of the time was spent looking for the lost ball belted into the hakea hedge or the neighbour’s paddock.  By way of variation the boys would engage in a game of “mud throwing” made possible by the abundance of lovely yellow clay left from the levelling. When applied as a small ball to the end of a pointed throwing stick it was propelled by an over arm action through the air and over the gully toward the nearby hall.  The object – to lob the clay ball as far as possible onto the hall roof! This game, incidentally, cost the school a lolly scramble.

Once a year the district was visited by three travelling salesmen called the “City Drapers” who hired the hall for three days to trade their wares with the local people. At the end of their stay they were in the habit of putting on a lolly scramble for the school children close by, something to which we looked forward with some anticipation.  Unfortunately this particular year we were in “mud throwing” mode to which the City Drapers took exception  thinking, as the mud splattered the roof and walls, that it was aimed at them. It wasn’t, it was only our game but they weren’t to know that so the lolly scramble was cancelled. Travelling from country district to district this would have been one of the last years they came to Ahuroa because, with the intervention of World  War II and the introduction of quite stringent rationing with coupons needed for all basic needs, including clothing, trading would have been limited and with petrol rationed travelling restricted. At any rate they just disappeared.

Another game played by the boys was to slide down the steep slope from just below the old “horse paddock” into the head of the gully between the school and the hall, using highly polished and waxed boards, not the seats of our pants. Old school desk tops were much sought after for sledges, the front ends being sniped and rounded and the undersides waxed using candle or bees’ wax. High speeds could be obtained down the dry slippery danthonia slope provided one didn’t fall off and, like mud throwing, was highly competitive as to distance achieved.  The boards were named for the cars of the well known racing drivers of the day, like Malcolm Campbell and Allan Cobb.  In those days too, the long row of macrocarpa below the horse paddock was, of course, used as a “jungle gym” to the detriment of them, our clothes and ourselves.

While none of this would seem to have much relevance to school swimming it was against this background of a paucity of playground facilities that swimming was to establish as the only organised activity and main sporting achievement of most of the pupils attending the school at that time. It resulted, prior to the levelling of the playing area, from an illicit swim by Roy Parker and me one very sultry summer afternoon in the creek across the road, while waiting for the “second bus”, (so named because the first run was up to Berger’s at the eastern end of the valley).  The creek in those days was choked with willows and our swim really only amounted to stripping off and squatting in the shallow pools between the clumps of willow roots.  Not much of a swim but I suppose we cooled off.

Unfortunately for Roy and me, but not, as it turned out, for the school, one of the pupils told his father who reported our misdemeanour to the teacher at that time, Chas. Newick, who strapped us both for it next morning.  I was never sure whether we were strapped for swimming or for stripping off because he then announced that those who brought their togs would be allowed to go swimming during the lunch hour. Thus was born the one sporting activity for which we had an adequate facility – the creek.   

As I remember it swimming started the very next day in a small but willow free hole further down the creek in Langmans but soon moved to a much bigger pool immediately below the Clifford’s road bridge where the Araparera is first deflected along the base of Woodcock’s hill and where it is also joined by the stream coming down from the railway tunnel.  This pool ran from the rapids under the bridge to unplumbed depths in the middle and further down. Getting out of it was possible in two places only, one on each side, on short narrow clay ledges shallow enough to allow us to clamber out and climb up the adjoining banks. Except for these two places and the base of the rapids no one ever touched the bottom  even right against the banks and the murky water didn’t really encourage the exploration of its depths. Goodness knows what was down there!   


Swimming diagonally across the pool from one clay ledge to the other was reckoned by the teacher, now W.M. Campbell M.A. Dip. Ed., to be about 25 yards and because of its width and depth there was no apparent current to affect swimming. Where the small creek coming down from the tunnel entered the main creek at the side of the big pool another pool was formed by rock and boulders backing it up to a small waterfall.  This made a safe nursery pond for the younger children to learn and gain confidence in their “dog paddling” ability before venturing into the big pool. We all learnt to swim by dog paddling before graduating to more sophisticated strokes, largely self taught, like sidestroke with the scissors kick, overarm with or without the Australian crawl, breaststroke and various forms of backstroke. One girl, Isabel Davie-Martin, was highly proficient at floating and was quite content to spend the entire period lying on her back just floating around the middle of the pool. 

Apart from swimming, the deep water so close to the banks encouraged jumping and diving, especially from the higher banks on the south-western side of the pool. This included, at various times, the use of a rope to swing out over the water – (belly busters were not uncommon), and sledging down the bank, two or three on the sledge, to be propelled out from the lip of the bank, rather like a ski jumper, to see who could get the furthest out and make the biggest splash. Jumping in was performed rather like the long jump with a run-up down the paddock to the top of the eight  to ten ft. bank before the wild leap out into the water.

In the summer term our lunch-time consisted of gulping down our lunches while changing into our togs – boys in the shelter shed, girls in the classroom corridor – then bolting down to the “little” gate and down the main road to the corner, down Clifford road and over the bridge then a left turn through or over the gate into  Frank Woodcock’s paddock giving access to the pond, before throwing towels onto the ground as we raced to be first in. The girls, naturally, followed in a much more sedate and dignified manner. At the appropriate time the teacher in charge would order us out and back to school  to change in time for the one o’clock bell.  Once or twice some of us managed to cadge a ride back on Mr. Langman’s bullock dray – he farmed on the side of Clifford Rd. nearest the school – but would have to abandon the ride and leg it back to school in some haste to make the bell. In terms of speed those bullocks left something to be desired, but I remember being intrigued, sitting up on the dray and being used to horses, that there were no reins  to guide them , merely voice commands – look no hands! 

I can recall only two incidents relating to swimming  in my time. The first occurred when a girl, escorted by two other capable swimmers, was attempting her first swim across the big pool and panicked a few yards out when she realised that there was an unknown depth of water beneath her and for the first time she couldn’t touch bottom. She was quickly brought back albeit after a short struggle, shaken but otherwise unhurt. The other involved Pat Berger, a chubby lad in those days, who in diving off the edge of a punt left in the creek flipped it upside down and came up underneath it. He quickly rescued himself, no harm done.

Effluent disposal in those times wasn’t given a thought, even though seven or eight cowshed discharges up stream ultimately ended up in the creek. So far as I know no one suffered any ill effects from this which may say something for the purifying effects of the willow roots which then choked the stream. Also at that time all cow pats were lifted by shovel off the surface of the yard and deposited over the rails and, unlike the present sluicing down system, did not directly enter the disposal system. With time, but after mine, parents may have become concerned with pollution as I believe the big pool in the Araparera was abandoned and the nursery pool in the Clifford’s creek deepened and enlarged by damning its outfall. Eventually of course the pool at the school was built and I assume swimming continued to be a major part of its sporting activities – but that is someone else’s story. 

Almost every pupil at the school in my time learnt to swim in the lunch hours over those summer months and gain their proficiency certificates for swimming twenty-five, fifty or many more yards. The Woodcock girls, Elva and Dawn, both gained their one mile certificates after which the powers that be decreed that distance far too far and would only issue certificates up to a half mile, which distance many of us attained.             

In this essay I have tried to demonstrate how the lack of playground facilities and thus the opportunity for sporting achievement was, at least in part, alleviated by the introduction of swimming, a sport which not only provided us with considerable pleasure but also was the only one by our sporting achievements were acknowledged, and therefore a matter of some importance to us.  BJ.