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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 54, September 2010

(from the Hauraki Plains Gazette, April 4, 1932)

A very old and highly-esteemed schoolmaster in the person of Mr H. R. Hyatt has been the guest of Mr and Mrs Albert Alley, Hikutaia.

Mr Hyatt, who belongs to the school of pioneers, paid a visit to the Hikutaia School last week and gave a most interesting and instructive address to the children on the early days.

In the course of his remarks Mr Hyatt said that in the year 1879, over half a century ago he opened the first school in this district, the pupils being accommodated in an old building, one of many erected some time previously, during the gold rush. Before this period however, a few children had received some education at a private school conducted by a Mr Milton.

The first school had a total roll number of about 30 pupils, and comprised such families as the Alleys, Kellys, Ripleys, Scotts, and Nicholas. The first real school building was built on the present site in the year 1880, Hikutaia then being in the Ohinemuri School District, which extended as far as Puriri. The nearest member of the school committee, Mr Morrison, resided at Puriri.

On one occasion the old school was in great danger of being destroyed by fire, a spark from a burning chimney falling on the roof and igniting the wooden tiles. Had the building been destroyed the Maoris would have lost their stock of potatoes, for they were stored in an adjoining room which at one time was used as a store.

The old hotel at this time, said Mr Hyatt, was a little more than a cottage, with a garret in which were a few stretchers for travellers to sleep upon. The hotelkeeper was Mr Robert Kelly. It was from here that gum-diggers from far and near came to cash their cheques.

Mrs McCaskell was then Postmistress, and the remuneration for her services was one pound per annum. There were evidently financial depressions, even in those early days, for the postmistress received notice from the postal authorities that her salary was to be reduced by 10 per cent.

The farmers in those days had much to contend with for the peat and swamp lands were almost inaccessible. The road did not exist beyond the Hikutaia Bridge. Tukukino, the Maori chief of the Komata tribe, who lived to the ripe old age of 100 years, and who had seen cannibalism in his younger days, looked upon the road construction with suspicion and endeavoured to hamper its progress. The Maori chief at Hikutaia was Selwin.

Mr Hyatt said he was glad of the opportunity of visiting Hikutaia and viewing the many changes. He thought the children were fortunate to have such a beautiful and up-to-date school—one of the most modern of its kind in the Dominion. The fine playing areas and swimming pool were also an asset to the school and district alike.

He wished the children success in their scholastic careers, the children replied with a hearty vote of thanks for Mr Hyatt's interesting address and kind wishes.

Mr Hyatt is 72 years of age and commenced teaching at the age of 18 years.