Story: Country schooling

Crownthorpe School, Hawke's Bay

Crownthorpe School, Hawke's Bay

This 1950s photograph shows (from left) Margaret, Colin and Elizabeth Joll at Crownthorpe School in the 1950s.

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Contributed by Margaret L. Joll

'Good morning Mr Chadwick.' In 1950 I turned five and attended Crownthorpe School, 35 kilometres west of Hastings, a single-teacher one-room school with a roll of 20. When my sister started in 1952 the roll rose to 30 and the next year when my brother joined us to 31.

While we never deliberately ‘missed’ the bus, a Fordson van driven by Mr Chadwick, mechanic at Matapiro station who was given time off work morning and afternoon to transport the children of the district, we had plenty of opportunities. The excitement of the school day began with managing the diversions between home and the bus stop, one kilometre away. If Dad was picking lambs, we lingered at the yards hoping the stock agent wouldn’t go over to the house for breakfast, but offer us a ride in his latest chromed, winged American dream. If that didn’t materialise and there was activity at the Big Woolshed, we stopped there for a look and as long as we were ahead of a family who lived at the very end of our No Exit road we knew we weren’t late. If they were sighted ahead then it was running all the way till we caught up with them.

None of us had watches, but we had some inbuilt sense of time and acute hearing for a vehicle three kilometres away. We had a forded creek to cross, and once up the hill could see if the bus was coming or if we had time to clamber down a cliff, edge along a goat track and then clamber back up. We knew it was dangerous, were confident we wouldn’t fall the 30 metres into the creek below, and had enough sense not to tell our parents of this diversion.

As we got older it became a challenge to see how far we could get beyond the bus stop before the bus arrived. Walking we might get to the next stop (1 kilometre) but the greatest gain was lifts from stock agents or drivers of stock trucks who could get us to the end of the road, a further 3 kilometres away. Surprisingly, we were never caught between stops, but in hindsight Mr Chadwick would have been well aware of three grinning children crammed high up in the truck cab coming towards him and knew exactly where we would be on his return trip.

In winter, if there had been rain in the ranges, the creek rose and the ford became impassable. I can never remember my parents coming down with us to see if it was safe for us to paddle across. The decision to cross or not was ours, and while we might have had water over the tops of our gumboots and wet socks all day we always made it to the other side or returned home to report that the creek was too high for us to cross, to be given a day off school, no questions asked.

On more than one occasion we were collected from school early, as the creek was rising and expected to be impassable by home time. One day a neighbour collected us as Mum and Dad were in town, and dropped us home. We amused ourselves, raided the cake tins, fed the dogs and chooks, lit the fire and waited. It was dark before Dad walked up the drive. He had had to tight-rope walk the flood gates hanging on to the cable above his head with treats tucked inside his jacket – bananas and a coffee bun. The bananas fell out half way across and the coffee bun was a flattened mess, but still considered a tasty luxury! Mum had driven back to town and only just made it through flooding further down the road.

The trip home from school, nine kilometres, was without distraction – we were intent on getting home for something to eat as quite often we had eaten our lunch while waiting for the bus in the morning and so had had nothing through the day. We didn’t get home till 4.00 p.m.

'Goodbye Mr Chadwick.'

As a contrast, in the 1980s my three nephews attended the same school, but rode their bikes on a sealed road across a bridge to the same bus stop, now with a shelter against the elements!

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How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Country schooling - Personal experiences of country schools', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 March 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Nov 2008