Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995
By Wally Henton
Like everything else in today's world, the way things are accomplished are vastly different to how they were done sixty years ago. The way we were taught back then and the way children of today are taught is just one of the thousands of dramatic changes that have taken place
The Patron of the Paeroa Old pupils Association, Will Malcolm, being a teacher of that era, is still today, greatly interested in all aspects of teaching. He and I often have conversations on the phone, schooling back then has occasionally been a topic of our conversation, even to the extent that he has urged me to write a paragraph or two on my school days, because they differ so much to today's schools. As our Association is comprised to a large degree of pupils of Schools in and around Paeroa, I thought perhaps I would endeavour to put on paper a few reminiscences of that era. I realise that my experiences may and will, vary greatly to many of our P.O.P.A. members.
One of the greatest differences of then and now is the way we even got to school. I was born up in the Rotokohu Valley, into a farming family, whose property lay midway between Rotokohu and Tirohia. It was in those days a real "backblocks" farm, having no road access to it, no electricity or telephone, so the means of getting anywhere was by walking or horse riding, or in a horse-drawn gig or farm dray (cart).
In 1926 I was old enough to start school. Access to and from our home was so horrendous because of wet peat swamp between us and the Old Te Aroha Road, (as it was then known) and teatree, gorse and blackberry hill country, between home and the main Paeroa - Te Aroha Road at Tirohia - all too much for a wee 5 year old lad to traverse on foot. It was therefore decided that I would go and live with my Aunty and Uncle, the Caseby family, who share-milked on the Gillard farm which was some 3 miles on the Te Aroha side of Tirohia, and I would walk along the very dusty, metal road and attend Tirohia School.
So that is what transpired. I was fortunate enough to have other children from the area to walk with for company and safety but 3 miles was a fair way to walk and certainly took a lot of energy out of one so small.
Tirohia School was just a one room building, with about 50 pupils at that time; there was a pipe rail about 6 feet above floor level and a big green curtain hung down to divide the room into 2 areas. The primer classes and standards 1 and 2 were on one side and standards 3, 4, 5 and 6 on the other side. The bigger standard children often pricked us smaller ones through the curtain with their pens. The Headmaster was Mr Pendergrast and almost unbelievably he was also a farmer and milked cows in the morning before walking to the school and at lunchtime he used to hurry home to feed pigs, you know 2 or 3 buckets of milk into each trough and then back to school, then in the afternoon after school, home to milk the cows again. Quite amazing really. His daughter Jean is still one of our members (the wife of the late Jim Silcock, a former President of our Association), now resident in Waihi.
The one lady school teacher was Miss Biggs. Our lessons those days were learnt well, by constant repetition, in things like learning arithmetic, we all repeated our "times tables" over and over again and even to this day they are fixed firmly in our minds, whereas today's pupils reach for a calculator to find out what 9 x 9 = etc.
Our school had an acre "horse paddock" and as many as 15 horses carried children to school and many a time some of the horses proved difficult to catch after school and required several big boys to help, moving them into a comer to allow the owner to get the bridle on.
I can't remember very much about walking to and from school in that first one or two years except that Stevenson's store was on a section of our Headmaster's farm and it was a great gathering place in the afternoon, hoping someone would have a few pennies to buy lollies and hopefully share them around.
From the age of 7, I went to live back home and had the arduous task of walking to school across country, reaching the road one mile on the Paeroa side of Tirohia school at the top of the rise opposite Mr Veale's farm. By this time my younger brother Owen was coming to school as well so we both walked to Tirohia school but it was quite a daunting task walking on muddy tracks, through undeveloped land, about 2 miles to reach the road, and then one mile down the rough metal road to the school.
Our cream was taken on this same route by horse and dray to our cream stand on the side of the road by Mr Veale's farm, to be picked up by Mr Harold Mitchell in his horse drawn wagon and taken into the Paeroa Dairy factory.
So that we could "pin point" any particular place on the track to the road, my parents had devised a series of names so on our way to school on leaving the house we passed through a paddock named the "top lucerne" then down through a gully we called "the orange grove" (no oranges though), then there was a taranaki gate to get through and that entered us into our hill section, densely covered in teatree, with just a track cut through wide enough for the horse and cart. The first part of this track was uphill and we named it "the chute". Next came a creek and with constant horse and cart usage, it had become a fairly wide area of water, with stepping stones, it was here that a large number of those big dragon flies made their home and I was very afraid of them as they landed on our heads and fluttered their wings. It was an awful place to get past. Owen used to carry a stick to chase them away. From there it was level going till we reached the "Calebra Cut" where a large cutting had been made, as the hill was steep, and the cart would have capsized. The next named place was "the big hill", where we rounded a bend in the track and a few hundred yards more we came to "the point" where a ridge ran down to the level ground and this was the division between Rotokohu and Tirohia, another quarter of a mile and we reached the taranaki gate opening into our neighbour's property, in those days owned by an Auckland businessman, Mr Endean. We had a one chain wide right-of-way through his property to reach the main road at Tirohia. On this chain width there were numerous gates to open and one part was sheer wet bog, my father used to have to cut lots of tall teatree and tie them into bundles, called "fascines" and lay them side by side in the bog so the horse and cart could cross over safely. From this point we climbed another small hill, passed through three more gates, then we were on the road, with just one more mile to walk and we were at school, ready for the day's learning.
The school had a galvanised iron water tank for our drinking water and once a year someone came to clean it out by syphoning through a large size hose and invariably several decomposing starlings and sparrows were syphoned out!
We had no regular sports but played lots of games like "hide and seek", various games of marbles, spinning pine cone tops by whipping them with a flax whip, a rough and tumble kind of rugby and a stick game called "tip tap" where a hole was made in the ground and a 6 inch stick stood on end in it at an angle, and it was hit with a longer stick so that it flew up in the air and then given a whack to make it fly away. Whoever hit it furthest away was the winner. They were happy days.
Some years later there was great excitement, our school was to double in size with the addition of one more room and a house built for a resident Headmaster. Mr Pendergrast retired and Mr Peter Costello was our new teacher, followed later by Mr George Rouse.
Once a year we had the terrible experience of being taken to the Wood Street School in Paeroa to the Dental Clinic, where the nurse with a foot pedalled machine, drilled and filled our teeth, where necessary.
The only other time I went to Paeroa School was for our Proficiency Exam which enabled us to leave school or go on to High School. In my case I left school after the exam in 1935 and started working on the farm, leaving it at 33 years of age, little dreaming I would end up in Auckland after six years in Putaruru.