Story: Country schooling

School at Arapōhue, Northland

School at Arapōhue, Northland

Hazel Simpkin is shown here a year or two before she began school at Arapōhue in Northland.

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Contributed by Hazel Simpkin

On 4 February 1936, when I was seven years old, I started attending school for the first time. It was a great adventure getting to Arapōhue school the first day, and the memory of this journey has always stayed with me. It was a time of one of the big February floods, and the bridge over Ōkahu Stream and the low filling on the Wainui road were covered in water, quite cutting off our home from the Arapōhue district.

Our father saddled up two horses, Rosemary and I rode together on one, and we went by horseback several miles along the ridges of our farm, over Finlayson’s land, down Curnow’s Road, and out on the Ōkahu road to higher up on the Ōkahu Stream, where a new concrete bridge was in the process of being built. The flood waters were up here, too, and I remember that my hand was taken by one of the workmen here, and I was led across the approaches and the bridge, with flood waters all about us. The next stage of our journey was riding across Ambury’s farm and out onto our road again where our father had arranged for a car to wait for us at Harry Turner’s farm. Then we completed the last part of the journey by more conventional means.

We reached school long after lessons had started for the day, and I remember these two shy little girls standing at the door with our father in his riding clothes, and the headmaster Mr McKenzie coming out to receive us. I don’t remember much about my start at school, except that I recited a poem about Grasshopper Green, and received some praise for that. Miss Ellison was our teacher in the junior room. She rode to school each day, and it was the duty of the sweeping boys in the afternoon to arrange two easel blackboards to form a screen behind which she could get changed from her riding clothes. Woe betide anyone who attempted to enter the classroom until the change was completed.

We stayed through each week with my father’s Uncle Bert and his family, and walked to school with my cousins, the younger members of his big family. Living away from home for most of the week and attending school was a difficult experience for me, a shy little homebody. I’m told that I would cry on Friday afternoon when we went home for the weekend, because Monday morning was so close! I can still plainly remember the desolate feeling during the winter months when our father would bring a lighted candle into our bedroom and wake us up to tell us it was time to get ready to be taken to school to begin another week.

So many experiences were new to me. We walked two miles to school, and at first I was frightened of the traffic on the road, and absolutely terrified of the big noisy cream lorry with its rattling cream cans. I would rush to the side of the road, up or down a bank, to get away from this threat, but I suppose it didn’t take long for me to realise that the other girls were not frightened, and all they did was to step off the roadway.

The big boys in particular at school seemed far removed from little me. Maybe they didn’t have age promotions in those days, and perhaps some of the boys were considerably older than the twelve or so years of age that children in form 2 or standard 6 [year 8] would be today, but Paul Speedy, Bill Webb and the older Thompson boys seemed like men to me.

During the latter part of 1937 Arapōhue district homes were being wired for electricity, and we came back from school one day to find the round black switches and the lights had been installed, but as yet, no power. It was a great day when the power was finally switched on and we had electric light, but in spite of the excitement, and the anticipation about turning on the lights, I can’t remember actually seeing them. We left Uncle Bert’s soon after, and we had to wait for many years before a generating plant was installed at Wainui, and we had electric lights at home.

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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 21 April 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Nov 2008