Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 4, September 1965
By DAN McPHERSON
Prior to 1890, children in the small mining village of Waihi had to travel over the hills to Waitekauri to attend school, but in that year an area of eight acres was set aside for school purposes on the western slope of Martha Hill. A small 18 feet by l6 feet room was built for use as a school-room and was used also as a community hall and for Church gatherings.
Miss E.M. Gibb was the first teacher, and in 1892 she was succeeded by Miss Kate Truscott with Mr. R.J. Corbett as assistant. As the roll was now 60, tenders were called for a new school and one was built for £259, roughly one-thousandth part of the amount spent on the Waihi College erected a few years ago. The roll number reached 100 by 1894 and further additions to the building were necessary. Still further additions were made in 1896 and 1898.
In 1896 Mr. Alfred Benge was appointed Headmaster and Miss Laura Roberts commenced her long and fondly-remembered association of 26 years as Infant Mistress. An early photo of the bare and sloping grounds, devoid of trees, indicates the trying conditions of Summer dust-storms and Winter-mud that had to be endured. The planting of much black wattle improved conditions to some extent, but the unhappy choice of this site cost much in time, labour and money down through the years.
By 1900 the roll had risen to 538 with 16 Standard 6 pupils wishing to continue their education, so in 1901 the Central School became the Waihi District High School with a staff of 11 primary and secondary Teachers. With the increased population due to the mining boom in the early years of the century, frequent additions had to be made to the School to cater for over 1000 pupils, so a second school of five class-rooms - the Waihi East School - was opened for the children in that area in 1907. The overcrowding was further relieved, when, 1909, the Waihi South School was opened with 137 pupils.
Mr. Benge continued as Headmaster until 1914, and in 1913 saw the opening of the Technical School in Kenny St. (now the Museum and Art Centre) to allow the senior scholars to undergo manual training. Mr. C. Wilson became Headmaster in 1914, was followed by Mr. R. Carnahan in 1919 and in 1920 Mr. H.T. Gibson, who had been Head of South School from its inception, transferred to the District High School. In 1925 the Headmaster's Residence was destroyed by fire and was not replaced.
A rapid succession of Headmasters ensued in the next few years when Mr. W. Smith (1925-26). Mr. W.C. Morris (1926-27) and Mr. R.C.D. Lightbourne (1927-32) were appointed. The School was remodelled in 1928 and a Dental Clinic was opened, but in 1931 fire completely destroyed the Main Building together with all School Records. Classes were immediately resumed in various halls round the Town, pending the erection of new buildings which were occupied on May 23rd 1932.
The Primers and Standards up to Standard 4 were re-allocated at the East and South Schools, while the senior scholars in Standards 5 and 6 (Forms 1 and 2) from these schools were centred at the new School, which now catered for pupils from Form I to Form VI. The new status was that of an Intermediate School with a Secondary Department attached, and an old pupil of the School, Mr. Frank Slevin, was appointed as the first Headmaster.
The next Headmasters were Mr. G.W.S. Smith (1937-39), Mr. E. Evans (1939-45), Mr. H.W.R. Black (1945-47) and Mr. D.E. Swinton took charge in 1947.
In 1950 the School celebrated its Diamond Jubilee with Miss Laura Roberts as the guest of Honour and with two first-day pupils, Mrs. O'Neill (Agnes Colebrook), and Mrs. McMillan (Alice Dance) also present. The celebrations were a complete success in every way with a huge parade of old pupils from the top of Seddon St. to the School, roll-calls and photos in decades, a lavish dinner and a most enjoyable programme in the Drill Hall, and a Thanksgiving Service.
In the year 1954 the Waihi College was established, but it was not until 1959 that the magnificent new building on a site second to none in New Zealand was occupied. Mr. Swinton, after long and faithful service, retired early this year, and Mr. J.R. Kelly, another former pupil of the School, is the present Principal.
The Intermediate School became a separate entity, occupying the old site, and catering for over 200 pupils in Forms 1 and 2, many being transported from outlying Schools at Waihi Beach, Waitawheta, Waikino and Waimata. An up-to-date Manual Training block has been added, and a splendid swimming-pool has been installed. Mr. E.H. Roberts was in charge of the School from 1959 to 1962 and Mr. S.J.M. Thornton is the present Headmaster.
MR. DAN McPHERSON, President of the Waihi Historical Society was both a pupil and a Teacher at the Waihi Central School and we hope that his timely reminder of its Jubilee and History will inspire others to record personal reminiscences.