The earthquake, air raid practice, nit inspection, picnics, blackberry burglars, fires, the ‘murder house’, six of the best and an ever expanding school…
The late Jack Butcher had firm recollections of “the day that changed the world” when the Hawke’s Bay earthquake struck on 3 February 1931, the third day of the new term at Haumoana School.
He and his friends were sitting on the benches outside one of the classrooms eating play lunch when the quake “let loose and the ground jumped like a rough sea.”
In that instant, the new headmaster Mr Florence walked in the school gate and all the kids ran toward him in panic. “Then down came two chimneys across the seats we’d just been sitting on. We just got clear and the smashed the trestles to smithereens.”
Jack, aged 98-years when interviewed, always wondered what would have happened if Mr Florence hadn’t turned up when he did. “Most of the kids just wanted their mothers,” recalled Mr Butcher.
During the years of World War 2, the threat of a Japanese air raid was very real for the pupils of Haumoana School; all pupils had to wear a wooden tag around their necks with their name ‘poker worked’ into it and air raid practices were part of the routine.
“We were warned by the school bell and then commanded by a series of whistles…one blast and everyone was to fall on the ground and two it was up and run again,” recalls former pupil and Cape Coast identity Maureen Heaps
First the children had to hide in “the pine hedge” bordering the playing fields and then head for the far corner boundary post. “From there we moved swiftly, diagonally across open paddock on Georgetti’s farm (later Neilsons) to a dense pine plantation under which we walked to our intended destination of gum and wattle trees on McNiven’s farm,” she said.
“The ground cover was nice and soft, but as we could see the sky through the lighter foliage, I figured the plane crew would be able to see us and thought we would be safer under denser pine trees.”
On one occasion parents were invited to come and see the air raid practice in action. “How on earth Mum was going to get to the school three miles away and in the day, I wondered. I had never seen Mum ride a bike before but to my amazement that is exactly what she did. Of course, she had ridden a push bike to work for many years before getting married but we children had never seen her on one.”
The school was closed for weeks at a time during three periods, 1925, 1936 and 1947 through what was term ‘infantile paralysis’ better known as polio (poliomyelitis), an acute and sometimes crippling contagious viral disease.
Haumoana School, 1940
After the war, Margaret Harrison (nee McKeesick) recalls a near disaster being averted when a pile of burning rubbish caught on to the trees near the school house. Frantic efforts by the senior pupils prevented ‘Cocky’s’ (headmaster Mr Cockerill’s) garage; housing his boat, car, petrol and hobby machines and material, from going up in flames.
“During this heroic effort, a considerable number of raspberries disappeared from nearby bushes. The result – every child who had helped was strapped and lectured severely. A very sore reward indeed.”
Jean Hantler (nee McKeesick) recalled the girls singing the commercial “Sunlight Soap is the Best in the World” in the strictly girls only shelter. In the mid-1940s “when the Hokey Tokey first came to the country Mr Cockerill banned it as ‘putting your backside in’ was considered too rude for his school.
In 1950 the Te Awanga Private School joined Haumoana school bringing the school to a point of capacity. In November 1952 with 52 children in the infant room (first year pupils), work began on a fourth classroom. In the interim the Haumoana Hall was used as a classroom.
When the student returned to school there were four classrooms, four teachers, a new learners swimming pool and manual training was about to begin for both boys and girls.
The District Health Nurse used to come out and check children’s heads to see they had nits. If the answer was positive that child would be given special shampoo and told not to return to school for a fortnight.
At the end of the Haumoana School year a picnic was held in the reserve by the old Black Bridge with the Lombardi poplars providing shade. Maureen Heaps recalls prizes for different sports activities being given on the day along with swimming and school awards.
Kerosene can cordial
Wearing hats was a must and hot days meant long queues awaiting cordial served from the former four gallon kerosene cans also used by the school to serve milk.
Later in the day, because of the heat, the demand became considerable and water was the only option to quench the thirst. The replacement Black Bridge now takes up much of the area where the old reserve was located.
A big storm bought down many of the trees in the school grounds and for safety reasons the rest were cut down shortly after.
By 1961 there were five classrooms, a new staffroom and cloakrooms and in 1962 a Volley wall was erected with children paying 2 shillings per concrete block with their initials painted on each. It was declared unsafe in 1983 and rebuilt with donations from families and former pupils.
Haumoana School Jubilee Committee, 1960
The school got its first dental clinic and nurse in 1963 and the following year the King Carnival at Haumoana Memorial Park, the precursor to the Haumoana Market Day, raised over £4600. Rusty Steevens was crowned King from finalists John Gordon, Darky Unahi and Roy Birch.
Part of the fundraising was used to build the school swimming pool and the rest was supplemented by the Education Department to build a library. Fundraising by students, Maori displays, a speech competition and a hangi, helped stock the new library when it opened in 1966.
By 1970 the school roll was 274 with eight teachers on staff, Mrs Rere (Rereokapuni) Unahi had been elected as the first Maori and woman to be chairman of the school committee.
Haumoana Teachers, 1970: Ray Moriarty, Judy Osborne, Violet Robon, Marcia Derry, Bill Ussher, Jacqui Ussher, Darcy Clausen and principal Mr Lee and his wife.
The school had a new heating system with a central boiler system, new swimming baths were completed, swimming sports were held for the first time, and at the end of year ceremonies were now held on the tennis courts instead of Haumoana Hall.
Maori group excels
Sports teams were performing well in the region and the Maori group under the guidance of Mrs Unahi and Mrs Tauroa had joined Hastings entertainers for the Governor-General’s visit and later performed with distinction at the Maori Festival at the Municipal Theatre. The school celebrated its 50th Jubilee in 1971.
Mrs Unahi was the driving force in getting a dedicated school bus to bring the children along the coast to school. Up until this time some pupils were dropped off by parent’s vehicles or from the 1950s caught a New Zealand Rail workers bus for part of the journey.
The committee wrote to the Education Board several times without response so Mrs Unahi went to their Napier offices and was told they’d received no such request, despite the committee having copies of the letters.
Her husband, local kaumatua Darky (Mick) Unahi says she was a determined woman with eight school teachers in her family who took decisive action.
Darky (Mick) Unahi
She arranged accommodation at a Naenae marae through her brother who had an influential position in Government finance, then took a class of Haumoana School pupils on the train to Wellington to Parliament. “Due to her discussions, she was told they would have a bus the following year.”
A postal ballot was held to determine whether Form 1& 2 students should attend Havelock North Intermediate in 1976. This was agreed to and in February 1976 the school re-opened with a reduced roll of 154 students.
The Education Board continued to upgrade the classrooms and facilities. In 1981 Mrs Rere Unahi retired after 16-years on the school committee, 12-years as chairperson.
Uniforms and technology
By 1988 plans to remodel or replace rooms 1-4 were finalised with two classes transferred to Memorial park Hall for term one until work was completed. The first board of trustees was elected with Lloyd McGhie as chairman and by July staff and pupils had settled into the new classrooms.
In the 1990s school uniforms were revived and a 75th Jubilee with former pupils, staff and parents attending.
Moira Lindsay, who retired in 2016 after 30-years as school secretary says some of the fragile old school registers remained valuable for many years. For example, an older Maori person who was required to prove he had been registered at the school under an English form of his name, and another in the 1970s who’s employer wanted evidence of his schooling.
The biggest shift she participated in was changing to decimal currency in 1967, the introduction of boards of trustees and the transition from pen and paper and formatted books to different computer systems, including Xero software for accounting and administration.
Te Awanga Our Home, Burden Childhood Days, Burden Family, 2008, P.11
Interview with Moira Lindsay
Haumoana School newsletters
Photographs: Haumoana School; Archives
School staff 1970 - Maurice Smith Photography