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Primary school - bullying and racial discrimination - what’s that?

Jim's Tales - TWO.

Jim is now a resident of Whitianga but back then, 70 plus years ago, he lived on a farm on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.

Jim attended a two-room primary school for six years. In that time, there was about 40 pupils, most of whom were Māori. There was never any homework. This school had the same headmaster for 42 years. Jim was in a class of six, four boys and two girls. Three of the six were Māori. Racial discrimination and bullying was unheard of. Jim’s class did not change in the six years he was in the school.

“If you lived under two miles from the school, you had to walk or ride a horse,” says Jim. “The school neighbour provided a holding paddock for the school children’s horses.” Jim lived three miles from the school and because of this, he rode the school bus. This was a custom made, ‘Heath Robinson’ affair. The square back of the bus had five separate doors which required the students to sit in little cubicles. Once when the bus broke down, the transport was a Ford Coupe driven by a 14-year-old boy. Seven pupils squashed into the front seat.

The two school rooms each had a pot belly stove. In the cold weather students were rostered to light it and clean it out. The top of the stove heated a large container of water. “Come morning recess, we all lined up at the stove. A spoonful of Milo was tipped into every student’s mug and hot water added,” tells Jim. The children brought their own milk to school, and this was added to the steaming brew to make a welcome milky Milo taste. Students were supposed to bring their own lunch to school. Jim’s Mum made sandwiches with jam or meat fillings. Jim noticed that one of the Māori boys never had any lunch. He gave his friend one of his sandwiches. Jim’s mum found out what he was doing and so she made another lunch for Jim’s mate. From then on, Jim’s Mum made sure there were always two lunches in Jim’s bag.

Students used pencils for all their work. A Māori girl transferred from another school and the headmaster had her show her book to Jim’s class. Her work was more modern and written in pen. The point of this was to show the children that when they made a mistake in ink, it could not be rubbed out, unlike mistakes made in pencil which could be rubbed out. The message was clear and that’s why Jim’s school stuck to writing with pencils.

English was the only language spoken in school. The small amount of history that was taught was English history. There was no organized sport or physical education. On some hot days, Jim’s class was allowed to go across the road to the sea. There they swam – but not really. They played in the water. There was no attempt to teach the children to swim. To this day, Jim can’t swim.

The only after-school social life Jim can remember was an annual bonfire. The whole community came. Much excitement was caused by crackers but that was it. There was no barbeque or refreshments.

Jim and the whole school were impacted when a boy, two years younger than Jim, died. The story was that he was bitten by a dog. After that, he never came back to school and was moved to an aunty in another district. He died in her house. No one said how or why – he just died. The whole school was sad.

The only practical skills the big boys learnt was woodwork. In fact, the woodwork was constructing farm gates of different sizes. Farmers would come and order a gate and give the dimensions they needed. Then on Friday afternoons, under the supervision of the headmaster, the children would make gates to order. Jim thinks this was a fundraiser for the school - the only one he can remember. A playtime game was a kind of rounders which the children had made up. And then there was rugby. The ground was sloping, and this slope gave a significant advantage to the team who were playing downhill. As with everything, the girls joined the boys for this rough and tumble sport. “You had to watch out for the girls,” Jim says. “Some of those girls could really flatten you!”

Jim looks back on his primary school years. “Boring sometimes, rough and tumble a plenty, but mostly it was good to be with mates, Māori and Pakeha, boys and girls and a headmaster who liked us and whom we respected,” says Jim.

Caption: “Come morning recess, we all lined up at the stove. A spoonful of Milo was tipped into every student’s mug and hot water added”.

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