Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 10, October 1968
By ELSIE G. EVANS
The articles in our last journal by Mr. Cliff Furniss and Mrs. Elvidge have prompted me to recall my early days teaching at the Ngatea School 1920 - 1922. Eight years had passed since Mr. Harris (Mrs. Elvidge's father) had pioneered education in the district by dividing his teaching time (six days a week) between Pipiroa and Ngatea after the Education Board had borrowed a small hut from the Lands and Survey Department and opened it as the "Orchard School" with fifteen pupils on 25-3-1912.
I attended the Golden Jubilee of the Ngatea School in 1962 and the Booklet produced then, to which I make acknowledgements, records some interesting facts about the district as well as about the School.
In 1914 a classroom was erected at a cost of £120. This is still in use, although on a different site, and houses the present Sixth Form, being known to all pupils as the "Dog-box". The teacher at this time was Mr. Salisbury, who divided his time between Ngatea and Kerepehi travelling from one to another by boat.
During the decade 1910 - 1920, settlement and agriculture in the Ngatea area expanded rapidly. In those days sheep-farming was more widespread than it is to-day in this area, and it was a common sight to see flocks of several hundred sheep setting out from Ngatea for the trip to Westfield freezing works which would take about a week. To-day motor trucks have almost replaced drovers for the long-distance movement of stock.
From the earliest beginnings of the township until well into the 1920's, there was a permanent camp of drainage workers on the riverbank, for drainage and reclamation went hand-in-hand with progress. Large numbers of horses were kept in the drainage camp mainly for pulling wagons and road graders as motor vehicles were still comparatively rare until the later 1920's. River transport was all important in the first twenty years of Ngatea's existence, and about 1914 a thirty-five foot launch, the "John Kennedy", and many barges were actually built at Ngatea. By 1914 there were several wharves along the river. Besides the wharf at Ngatea itself, there were wharves at Leonard's, Paul's, Rarewerawe, Hopai, and Pipiroa.
As far as the School is concerned during the two or three years prior to 1920 increases in roll made further building necessary. 1918 saw the erection of another classroom at the School at a cost of £500. In the following years a block of three rooms was built and this constituted the Primary School. Although it was not at first erected in its present position this block survives as the old secondary block comprising room five, the commercial room and the library. During the 1920's various minor alterations were made to this block, and an additional room (now room four) was added as a memorial to the casualties of the First World War.
During the inter-war period the progress of the Hauraki Plains continued as more land was brought into use. In 1920 Hauraki Plains County was established, the first chairman being Mr. J. C. Miller. It was about the same time that Ngatea gained its present name and ceased to be known as the orchard. Mr. W. Wylde, then a reporter on the Hauraki Plains Gazette, explained in an article at the time exactly how the name arose: "Ngatea is not a Maori word, although it is a corruption of a Maori place-name. When Mr. I. J. Bratlie was asked by the Chief Postmaster at Thames to suggest a name for the new Post Office, Orchard being unacceptable, he selected a Maori word which sounds something like Ngatea.
Mr. Bratlie was a Norwegian and the old single wire telephone installed by the Drainage Department from Thames to Waikaka (now Patetonga) was not very effective and the Postmaster understood him to say 'Ngatea'. The Maori name which Mr. Bratlie offered had to do with the hanging of the entrails of a man on the big willow tree that grew near the present bridge-keeper's building.
Having drawn in a land ballot a farm on the south side of what is now Ngatea's main street, Mr. Bratlie was one of the leaders in the movement to establish Ngatea as the business centre for the Hauraki Plains, and thus the Maori word for bowel or intestines was "seized on as meaning the heart."
The original name "Orchard" which survives in the names of two roads arose because of the presence of a large number of assorted fruit trees which grew close to where the bridge now stands. This orchard was certainly in existence before the first settlers arrived, and probably owes its existence to the fact that Maoris originally camped on the spot, and the trees possibly arose from the fruit stones left behind.
I taught at the school from 1920 - 1922. It was small and the head and assistant taught in one room. As the roll increased the separate smaller building (Dog-box) was converted into the infants' room.
I arrived by boat from Auckland at Turua at the dead of night and I was greeted and conveyed to Ngatea by kindly Mr. Hayward. At first country life bewildered me a little as I had not been away from my parents' city home or city streets before. Mud was a new experience as were the wide open drains along the main highway. Sometimes cattle and occasionally a person fell in. It was easier to get a man out than a cow. Muddy roads loomed large in everyone's life. Gumboots were an item in everyone's wardrobe and skirts being long many were the muddied hems. The children came to school often four on one horse and many walked long distances. Bare feet were the order of the day for many of the boys. There was a wholesome and worthwhile community spirit; kindliness and co-operativeness was the keynote of the whole area. Picnics by launch up the river, banked by weeping willows and vistas of paddocks bright with buttercups remain a vivid and cherished memory. No night was too crow-black or too stormy to keep us away from the Saturday night dances whether at Pipiroa, Patetonga or Ngatea. At the home hall we were all there, husbands, wives and their growing-up sons and daughters, the boys employed on farms, the lads from the butter factory, and many young babies peacefully asleep amongst gum-boots and storm lanterns on the floor of the ladies' cloak-room. Long evening frocks were well hitched up as wet and muddy paddocks were crossed. Dancing shoes were carried in fancy bags. I learnt to dance in Ngatea Hall. Miss R. Hilford was our accompanist. The hall was the focal point of social activities. Mr. Ernest Walton (later a Magistrate) used a small room at the entrance for his office as County Clerk.
The Post Office was small. In those days when the mail was a large one, the post-mistress, Miss Hilford, (Cousin of Miss R. Hilford) had to close the door to keep out the crowd awaiting mail. There just wasn't room to sort mail and have people inside as well. As the launch brought the mail up the tidal river from Thames mail sorting times varied from day to day. The tiny Bank of New Zealand on the comer by the Saleyards was open only on sale-days.
Generous indeed was the hospitality, Sunday night teas at different homes were a highlight in the week; at the Hayward's, Dudding's and Walton's to mention but a few.
Miss Ely's boarding house was my home for a long time. Then the two Miss Hilfords, Miss Smith (an English girl employed by Mrs. Hayward) and I managed, with the grand help of the boys from the butter factory, to convert an outbuilding on Mr. Manktelow's (Apiarist) property into living quarters. As I was out of school first I was cook. I can't remember now what I served but I fear I was rather unimaginative in those first essays in cookery.
I remember Mr. Halliburton-Johnston, a giant man on a giant horse, or so it always seemed to me, with a cattle dog trotting alongside.
Some Saturdays Eric and Alan Green would give me a treat by putting a few sacks on the hard seat of the farm cart and take me for a ride. One such outing was particularly rewarding and I have never forgotten the sudden sight of a beautiful large mass of exceptionally early clematis in a patch of native bush. Only once did I ever ride a horse, I was no horsewoman.
There were visits to the dentist in Thames on a launch full of people. The boat was always more packed on the home trip as the many shopping packages squeezed us closer together. Not everything could be bought at Dave Vincent's general store near the bridge.
There was a complete bond between all the children and myself and my years were happy ones. The overall memory is one of courageous, kind, progressively-striving people. That the same spirit is alive in Hauraki Plains to-day is proved by the lusty growth and evident prosperity of Ngatea and its fine schools - the fruits of hard work by the sons and daughters of the parents I knew forty-six years ago - by the children who once learned their ABC from me. Mr. Rush, Mr. Mackin and Mr. Jamieson were headmasters in my time.