Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 31, September 1987
By A H Gwilliam
As I read the 1986 issue of the Historical Society Journal of Paeroa, my memories go back to 1939 when I, a foreigner from the "Mainland", came to settle in Paeroa. I was a complete stranger to the town of Paeroa and the previous 10 -12 years of my teaching career had been in the depths of the Urewera Country - Te Whaiti, Maungapohatu (Rua's stronghold) and Waiohau. From there I went to the deep South (Southland) for some years. What a change from country schools of Southland to the township of Paeroa. There was no Paeroa College but the High School part was held in the Methodist Sunday School Hall, where the three teachers were the late John Jensen, Mr Callaway and Stella Baird.
The Wood Street School catered for the primers up to Form II. At that time the Headmaster was the late A E Day. As our home was on the hill just above the school, I was called upon to relieve for long periods as the various men on the staff went overseas. At the beginning of 1941 I was sent permanently to Matatoki and spent 3 years there - very happy years with delightful children. When my husband, Cyril Gwilliam, returned from the war in 1945, after 5 years in the Middle East, I was again on the Paeroa Staff. We had a large staff, about 17, with the late George Ruscoe as Head. He was a very fine man and very, very popular with staff, parents and children. He was later appointed to Napier Intermediate and retired to Napier where he died suddenly a few years ago. I still keep in touch with Rhoda, his wife. Mr George Gubbins followed him. He too did a lot for the school - I always think of him when I pass the concrete steps!! He lives in retirement at Raumati South.
In 1940 the Secondary Department was built across the River - it was still part of the District High School and Mr Day was the Headmaster - this meant a daily trip across to the Secondary Department. Rex Heward was in charge of the Secondary Department until it became divorced from the Main School to become Paeroa College.
Two "pre-fabs" were erected behind the College and in 1952 when I was appointed Senior Woman, I was located in one of these - what a life - I had Form I and next door was Bruce Seaton - we were "the Junior School" and never allowed to forget it! We had to go to Assembly each morning with the Secondary Department and poor Junior School - every wrong deed at the school was done by the Junior School - every scrap of paper left lying around, the Junior School was always to blame. The Head of the Secondary Department did not want us there - after 3 years of this I was glad when the prefabs were re-located in "the big field" beside the Main School. Oh! Those prefabs! When it rained there were leaks everywhere - I kept cans and receptacles to catch the drips. There was hardly any space between the blackboard and the desks. Half the time the fire would not burn and it was very cold in the winter. Yet those pre-fabs turned out some children who have made their mark in medicine, law, accountancy, the Police Force - one, Lionel Beattie has just been appointed Head of the Tauranga Police District. My own excellent lawyer was one of my pupils in those pre-fabs - Geoffrey Broadbent. Quite a number are trained nurses - Raewyn Morrison, Heather Trembath to name a few - some became school teachers and in many other walks of life, made their mark. Poor old pre-fabbers - we had a time of it - but we were glad to go home again to Wood Street.
Again "home" was in a pre-fab. This time over in the "Big Field". I was glad when pre-fab days were over and once again I was in the main school. After a lot of help from the late Mr Jack Thomas who was head of the Education Board, we at least had a new staff room, etc. What a change from the old staff room and facilities! Mr Gubbins was an excellent Headmaster and left his mark on the school. My room in the main school was very cold but there were no basins, etc, to catch the raindrops! My room got no sun until the afternoon but Mr Pope and Mr Passey were very good to me in the way of fires - both were so happy to give their help in many ways.
How changed it all is now - the old stone building has gone and a modern school now has pride of place! But I did love that old stone "freezer".