Sunday, 29 January 2017

#52Stories, Week 5, Do I remember how my primary school smelled ? or where my desk was in primer 4 ?

It is funny what you remember from your childhood. Maybe not so much WHAT you remember but HOW you remember it.

I’ve been thinking about school memories. My first “school” was actually kindergarten – more of a preschool though as you went to afternoon "kindy" 3 days a week initially, and then morning kindy 5 days a week as you got closer to starting school and your fifth birthday.

I went to Miropiko Kindergarten on River Road in Hamilton. It is a small brick building with children sized everything, cubbyholes, coat racks, toilets and washbasins at 3-4 year old height. There was a big sandpit area outside in the front and a big tree stump and log to climb all over and jump off. I don’t remember swings or other playthings. We would have story time on the mat inside. It was set back off the road and down a drive or path, on the river side of River Road. I remember this driveway/path as being quite steep, and being warned against playing on it, riding pedal cars (or did I just imagine them) down the hill. They were fun times though; I still have a friend who was a kindy buddy from way back then.

I used to walk past with my daughter many years later. I attended the farewell for the teacher who was there when I was there in the late 1980’s – how is that for career stick-ability ? Something that we rarely see today. That big steep hill pathway ? Not steep at all ! I can’t remember if the log and tree stump were still there. I bet they aren’t now – it will have been deemed a health & safety hazard for sure.

After, kindy I attended Fifth Avenue Primary School, located in Fifth Avenue as you would expect. There were no other avenues nearby though; 1st, 2nd, 3rd or 4th not even 6th. I guess it was just named as it terminated at Five Cross Roads and they needed a name for the 5th road ! It was just about 5-10 minutes walk from home. On my first day, I walked with Mum and my little brother and I think one of the girls who lived next door. I remember it was a misty foggy morning – or I think I remember that. I also think I wore a dress which had a border print of kittens chasing a ball of wool. I had my little brown case with my lunch in it – and that is all. What else did you need ? At school we had milk delivered to the classroom to drink straight from the bottle at morning tea time until they stopped that a couple of years after I started. I was buddy-ed up with someone to show me around the classroom, and I remember being mildly devastated to turn around and discover that my mother had just left me there ! Still, I enjoyed learning, and it wasn’t so bad. In the summer the whole classroom had afternoon naps outside on the concrete play area. 

This was the school where I learnt to swim (in the school pool), began doing gymnastics, where I would go across the road at lunchtime to have a piano lesson, where I broke my front tooth, wrote to my first penpal, learnt to cross the road and look after my bike. Back then the Ministry of Transport had their own traffic police and educators who would visit schools to teach kids these basic skills. Now, they’ve been absorbed into the actual Police force and schools probably never see them. I remember where my desk was in most years and thanks to painstakingly named class photos (thanks Dad), I can remember the names of people from my classes. Mum and Dad were on the PTA and the School Committee, we were really involved in the school community and I enjoyed my five years there progressing through Primers and then Standards 1-4, before moving on to Intermediate School.

My next school was Peachgrove Intermediate, for just two years, Form 1 & 2, (Years 7 & 8 in today's lingo) it was supposed to prepare us for high school or college. Kids came from many contributing schools, some by bus from the country. Some walked and many, like me, rode our bikes using all those skills we had learnt about road safety from the traffic cops. We wore a uniform as well. I got mine from my cousin I think who had just left and started at high school. Were there gloves ? I know there was a beret for winter and a panama hat for summer – these were abolished in the year I began so I didn’t need to get hat hair riding to and from school. I made lots of new friends here, some came with me from primary school as well – and I got reacquainted with my buddy from kindy. We had new classes like sewing and cooking – the boys did metalwork and woodwork. You could join the choir or play in the orchestra, art was a whole different subject with a teacher who just taught art.

At the end of Form 2, we moved to Wellington. Just a bit of culture shock. No riding bikes to school for me now – those hills were killer. Suddenly I was at an all girls school, catching the train there and back. There was a co-ed college closer to home, and I had been going to attend a co-ed college if we had stayed in Hamilton, but not now. There were many more parts to the uniform - but no hats or gloves. Sensibly, given Wellington’s windy reputation, hats had been abandoned prior to my arrival. My first day was very scary. I don’t remember if I had caught the train independently beforehand or not. It was arranged that I would go with the girl next door who was a year ahead of me. One of her friends had a little sister starting too. Wellington Girls' College is a BIG school, over 1000 pupils, probably closer to 1200 then, I think. There were so many buildings to find your way around.

I knew no-one. Other girls in my form class knew girls from their old schools, or had sisters already there. The little sister of my neighbours' friend had her own friends from Intermediate. I think we only spoke a few times in the 5 years I was there. It felt like a pretty lonely year.

Over time I did make some friends. Many of them were other girls who like me - knew no-one. I didn't really start to find my feet until 4th Form. We mostly had all our classes together during the first two years – but we had to cross the school to go to Latin in Brook Building, French and Science in Tower Block, English back in the prefab classroom which was also our Form room. Where was Maths ? maybe in another prefab. 

Teachers wore black gowns and strode like dementors down the corridors. At assembly Miss Fraser told us firmly what was expected of us. For example we were not to wear our sleeves rolled up looking like "washer women". "Girls" was always said in a tone that you knew you had better stop and listen - and do as you were bid. There were sometimes reports of misbehaviour on the trains or the buses - most often the girls on the Karori Park Special or Mornington bus were "requested" to stay behind after assembly. There was no eating in uniform outside of school grounds and there was definitely no chance of going off school grounds at lunchtime. Even in 7th Form when we could wear mufti and were less conspicuous, getting off school grounds during school hours was an art.

When I look back though, it was okay. I might have been lonely, but I do have some friends who I have stayed in contact with over the years since school.

It was fun going back for the 125 year celebration in 2008 walking the halls and chatting to people I hadn't seen in 30 years. 

I had been back before. Some of my stories must have left an impression as my daughter chose to go to there too. The scariest part of that was the teachers (there were two) who had taught me. One in particular made me feel like she was telling ME off in a parent/teacher interview. Some things never change.

Lumen Accipe et Imperti - Take the light and pass it on. Words that bind students past and present together still at Wellington Girl's College and Wellington College.


  1. I enjoyed reading about your school memories. I wrote about my early school years this week as well. It's fun that with the #52stories project we can jump around to different topics, isn't it?

  2. Thanks Kim. I will have to find your story too. I think it is a great idea - though some of the topics are a bit tricky. Will have to start planning in advance I think

  3. They sure are! I am also going to be participating in the Family History Writing Challenge, where you commit to writing about an ancestor once a day for the entire month of February. That will be an effort to do that as well as one of the #52stories posts each week. But I am going to give it a try!