PART TWO: Interview with a Yesteryear Te Kura Student from 1952

PART TWO: Interview with a Yesteryear Te Kura Student from 1952

Will: When you made the switch back to mainstream school was there any reluctance? Or were you looking forward to it.

There wasn’t any reluctance Will because before we moved to the farm I had actually gone to the early stages of a primary school in Hastings before we moved down to Waipawa. So I did have an idea of what face-to-face would be like. While I enjoyed the correspondence schooling, it was nice to get back with other kids my own age. To be in that more traditional timetable learning experience instead of just fitting it in when we could. It wasn’t a shock to the system, I did have some idea of what it would be like. I did look forward to it.

Will: I’ve been in mainstream my entire life, until last year. So I have seen both sides of it and I did find when you go to correspondence school you can sometimes lose touch with lots of people. You’ve got not even  many people to talk to so I can only imagine back then when you didn’t have the internet to communicate with people it would’ve just been like that, you wouldn’t have that many people to talk to, well I suppose you said you had siblings?

Yes. Well my parents had eight kids by the time they finished, so there were quite a few people to talk to! But not of my age necessarily.

Stefan: I would like to track this conversation quite a long way back. Let’s go back to the place you were before you even enrolled in Te Kura. Could you paint a picture for us in regards to your dad and your mum, and how you ended up in this situation in the first place.

I was born when my dad was in Japan. He broke a leg when he was training as a soldier so he didn’t go to the main part of the war, he left for Japan with the occupation forces. So I was born in the time that he was in Japan with the occupation forces. My mum went and stayed with her mother in Masterton, they already had my older sister by that stage. So it was quite a strange time. When he got back from the war they settled as a shepherd, he was doing shepherding work for a farm in the back blocks of Hastings while waiting for a farm ballot to come up. When the farm ballot came up they went to have a look at the farm which was barely broken in. I think it probably had fences but I can’t even remember that it’s too early. It  was a very steep back-country farm. If you took a direct line as the crow flies you could get to the local beach, it was about 10 miles I suppose, but It would take you much longer if you drove because of the steepness of the terrain.

So when we moved onto that farm, after staying with my grandmother in Hastings for a little while which is where I went to the primary school first, there was a two bedroom army hut and it had very little in the way of kitchen facilities. It had a wood stove and in the days when you used to iron clothes you had to iron them by putting what was some type of old hot iron on a chip heater and heat through, you see people using them for door stops these days. To wash your clothes you had to boil a copper up and you had to fish the clothes out with a wooden stick and feed them through a hand operated mangle to try and get them dry enough, and then you take them out into the paddock and string them across the paddock on a long wire with a prop in the middle, and hope the horses don’t rub up against the prop and make all the washing go down on the ground.

What I was going to tell you was that we didn’t, obviously, have plumbing. So there was a china pot inside the two bedroom army hut for night time and apart from that you traipsed across the paddock and did your business in a long drop. It was pretty basic.

To keep the butter cool we used to keep the butter at the bottom of the hill and you had to ride down on a horse to fetch your butter out of the creek when you wanted to fetch supplies. My parents used to go into town, once the roads were decently developed, probably only once a week and buy a bulk lot of groceries so you had to think of everything ahead, you couldn’t just pop out and get something. It was a 17 mile drive to get into Waipawa. It was quite different. It was really hard work when getting the kids to school until dad, who was a bit of a mover and a shaker, got everybody into this BW little bus. So instead of all the farmers each having to take their own kids down to the main road to catch the big bus they took turns on a schedule on the BW bus to go around to pick up everybody and take them all down.

It’s hard for you guys to imagine.

Will: I’ve never lived anywhere rural before. You can have these images in your head but you will never know exactly what it’s like.

Stefan: I can imagine that most young people would imagine that back in your time that correspondence school booklets would have been delivered by horse and cart. Can you please clarify to our readers how the booklets were delivered to you? And how were they picked up?

Well, on the 5 mile road, there was a big bus that used to deliver the mail to a little shed at the end of the 5 miles, as outside my road was gravel. Before the little BW bus each farmer had to drive to the end of that 5 mile road to pick up their own mail. Then eventually, they got a rural mail post who used to come around and drop them at the letterboxes at the end of each farm but that was quite a long way on, it certainly wasn’t the way it was to start with. The correspondence school stuff used to come in a large brown envelope, I remember that. My older sister would have been about 7 so she was doing more advanced work than I was. We would get the fat brown envelope once a week and all the stuff that we had to work on would be in there. Then we would have to post stuff back. No horse and cart! It wasn’t that Ancient!

Stefan: So when you said that the mail was dropped off, you said it was put into a shed. Was that like a communal shed?

Yes. It was basically a wooden bus shelter. When we got to the stage of being able to get to school, rather than doing correspondence, we’d do down each car by car and they’d drop us off at the main road and we’d stay in this little wooden shed waiting for the big bus to come. That’s where they used to drop the mail off before the rural post started, coming along and dropping it off at the end of each farm.

Stefan: I can imagine any local thieves in the area going into the shed and grabbing your package only to go home and realise ‘oh come on’  this is primary school stuff!

They didn’t have any local thieves in those days. Everybody knew everybody and no one was doing anything dodgy. They would’ve stopped you.

Will: How would you send it back to them? Did you have to go to the post office?

Yeah. You’d have to go to the post office in Waipawa. But they went into town once a week so that was ok. They’d just go to the local post office and post it then.

Will: How would you feel when you saw the envelope show up?

It was exciting. They used to put things like colouring in for you. I’ve got a vague memory of a little fish and you would colour it in and it had two sides to it, and you were encouraged to sort of sew it or staple it together and stuff it so it made a sort of mobile almost. They put things in that were encouraging to kids, not just the schoolwork stuff.

Will: Would you do all the fun stuff first?

We weren’t allowed to Will. That was like reinforcement. We used to have to do the schoolwork first and then we were allowed to do the fun stuff.

Ella: What was the main difficulty you had while doing correspondence? If you had any.

The main difficulty would have been fitting it in with parental help when both our parents were so busy because the time in a sheep farmer's life was just all go. Like when you do docking, where you cut the tails of lambs. When lambs are born, that is a very difficult time. This was like a 750 acre farm and you’d have to go around with a horse and dog to make sure that none of the stock had passed or were in trouble or anything like that. You’d have to bring them all in at one point, when the lambs were not that old and cut their tails off. Not to put too fine a point on it, they didn’t use toilet paper, the lambs, and they’d get all clogged up near the rear end and they could get flies or fall over and not be able to get back up. It sounds pretty vile cutting their tails off but it’s for their own good in the end. There were a few other things that went on to do with male lambs but we won’t go into in present company. So that was one of the times that we were flat out. Shearing the sheep every year, at that stage they only shore sheep once a year and now they tend to do it twice but that was a big deal as well, it was all hands on deck. You kind of had to just fit your schooling in whenever you could. So it was quite tricky fitting it all in I suppose, that would have been the hardest I think.

Stefan: So Pip when you got the booklets were they in black and white or did they have colour?

No, I remember them being black and white in those days. I don’t remember much in colour at all. My strong memory is off everything being black and white and probably A4 size, especially for some of the art activities.

Will: Were they all like newsprint?

Yes. I used to teach primary school back in the day. We used to have things called diazo type which you photocopied things on and you had to put in this smelly stuff to make the print come out and I can still remember doing that and the smell of the stuff was awful, but that was afterwards when I was actually teaching school.

Will: When you went back to mainstream did any of you struggle with finding that they were too far ahead or too far behind?

That’s a very good question. I don’t remember there being any difficulty and I don’t remember us being in any way disadvantaged. I went on to win a scholarship to study in America for a year and I now have a doctorate in education. So I think my correspondence schooling, even though it was for a small period of time, was beneficial. I think the correspondence schooling was good and I don’t remember any of my siblings struggling.

Ella: Did you have any contact with any other Te Kura students?

No, only my siblings. All of the kids up the road would have been doing correspondence schooling to start with but because of the business of farm life we didn’t have a lot to do with them except maybe once a month when there was a big community event or something like that. Then about after a year and a half when the roads got developed we went to mainstream school anyway. So I don’t recall, I would have been about 5 or 6, discussing schooling with the other kids on the road at all.

Eliza: Looking back on your early childhood is there anything you wish you could change? Education or otherwise?

That’s a good question. No, I don't think so. I was fortunate to grow up in a family that really prioritised education. My parents made big sacrifices to make sure that we got a good education. So, no I feel quite privileged in the way that I grew up and it's probably why I’ve done pretty well in the education system myself.

Stefan: How was the correspondence school introduced to your family in the first place?

I think it was just a matter of cause, Stefan, there were no other options. All the kids up that road, with limited mobility to get to a mainstream school, had to do it. My mother was probably a better educator than my father, but neither of them were sludges, it was probably just the way it went. I suspect the mainstream, with support from the returned servicemen association, helped the people who were on rehab farms school their kids. My father had grown up in the back plops of Gisborne and they used to ride their horses to the local school and sometimes they even had a school master on site but they tended to do it back then, because Gisborne had been settled a lot longer than where we were, they tended to do more face-to-face schooling and I don’t know that even my father did correspondence schooling. Many of the support would have come from the returned services kind of thing.

Stefan: Can I ask what it was like for you as a young girl being brought up in a family with a father who was a returned serviceman.

You can open a whole can of worms there, he had some pretty traumatic experiences and he would occasionally black out and we’d just have to walk over him and wait for him to come around. I think it was his way of coping with some of the things that he had experienced. He’d just kind of switch off and crash.  So, when we went to the school in Waipawa, once a year they had an ANZAC day ceremony and all the kids would go. The one thing that we haven’t gotten into in this conversation so far is that I actually went to the Catholic school in Waipawa, not the state school. I have an abiding memory of lining up when we used to go on the big bus and the state school kids used to go ‘catholic dogs sitting on logs eating guts out of frogs’ and things like that to us but it was just kind of fun it wasn’t malicious and it was kind of just ‘you guys are different and you have a different uniform’  but when we had the ANZAC day ceremonies the schools were quite separate. It was quite a sort of different way of being educated. We used to have to walk from the catholic school to the state school to catch the big bus to get home again, so the schools were quite separate in the town of Waipawa, quite some distance apart.

Stefan: That’s a lot of stuff guys.

I don’t know how relevant some of the stuff has been.

Stefan: Very relevant. What it does Pip for us is that it paints the broader picture what we were looking for, the events before, the events during and the events after and you’ve really painted that quite beautifully….but hearing what you have been talking about like having to boil water, wee into a pot and have no power. As I saw on Johnny Ray's face when he heard that you had no phone he was like ‘WHAT NO PHONE!”

No way of communicating. I remember when my grandfather died in Gisborne, we did have the phone by then, and they had rung from Gisborne to tell my father that his father had had a heart attack and he best get up there and he just got in the car and went like a cut cat. They had another phone call saying that his dad had died before he would have even gotten to Waipawa. So, my mum rang the Waipawa cop and said look, can you stop him and tell him his dad had died and not to bust his gut getting up there because he was gone anyway, but the cop couldn’t catch him because he was driving too fast. It would have taken him probably 5 or 6 hours to get from Waipawa to Gisborne. Probably the disaster for you would be the internet failing, well that just wasn’t an issue at all, we didn’t have electricity.

Will: I think the thing is for us is that we can have these images, we can imagine all of it, we can come up with it in our imagination of what it’s like but the thing is we’ll never actually see that. We’ll never have an accurate representation of what that was actually like.

I’m thinking of Will, one of my sisters who used to get croup very badly. I don't know if you know what croup is but it’s kind of a respiratory coughing thing and they can’t breathe. We were like 17 miles away from town and bad roads. I remember my father at one stage giving my sister teaspoons of sugar with a couple drops of Kerosene, now kerosene is poison but we fed it to her because the fumes from the kerosene opened up your respiratory system and they had to do stuff like that because there was just no instant access and you couldn’t google how to fix things, you just had to make it up as you went along.

Will: There are so many situations and at least many, I’m sure others my own age, would say that what’s the first thing you do when you're faced with a problem? Go to Google. You could even say that it’s not like you even had a book with everything in it, you didn’t have that, we feel like we rely on these things, it feels like we do.

Yeah, and kids died, let's face it. One of our neighbours had a kid who had a severe asthma attack and they couldn’t get her to hospital in time and she died. Stuff like that was just something that you had to learn to live with really.

Will: There’s many good things the internet has brought us. Just the more connected world that we have today both by internet, telephone, by improved infrastructure, better roads, cars. That’s some of the many good things that it has brought us.

We didn’t have internet bullying either.

Will: Yeah and I think that’s a much bigger issue than most people realise.

Stefan: What was your favourite correspondence school subject or booklet that you can remember?

That’s going back too far Stefan I’m sorry. I can’t remember that at all. I do write a beautiful hand now but I think that’s partly because I'm left-handed and this will make the students freak out too. I learned in the days of dip and pen. You had a little ink well on your desk and you put ink into it and you put your pen in there and then you wrote.

Will: Did it have like a little feather on the end?

No, It didn’t have a little feather on the end. You’d pull your pen away from the writing and the ink dried and if you were left-handed your hand goes directly over what you had just written and smudges it. I used to get hit with the ruler for smudging my work and I tried to explain to the teacher at one stage why that was happening because of being left-handed. I really learned to write beautifully because I didn’t want to get hit. I remember the correspondence school tracing things that you taught you to do what’s called cursive writing, which is the joined up type of writing. So back in those days cursive writing was treasured and we were taught how to write beautifully. I still enjoy writing but I hardly use it anymore because of the keyboard. Stefan, I’m sorry I can’t remember what was my favourite subject, it was too early on.

Stefan: Now Pip I’m going to reverse this and ask if you have any questions for my students?

Yes. The same way that I asked Vicki’s students, what are your hopes for the future, what are you going to do when you graduate from Te Kura?

Will: So I am currently in a funny situation. I currently work two jobs, I work for Air New Zealand at Tauranga airport and I do checking in at the front desk, you know checking people in for their flights. I really love that. The other thing I do is a lot of computer programming, so creating things like that. Through a mutual friend of a Te Kura student I managed to land myself an internship creating the software that Air New Zealand uses for checking people in and printing out their tickets. It fascinates me a lot. The industry is worth so much money and you can earn a lot and travel a lot. I am a passionate traveler. So, I've had this opportunity and I’ve just embraced it and I’m seeing where I can go with it.

Sometime you should talk to my husband who got in the ground floor of computers in the days when they took up whole great big rooms and used punch cards and ticker tape and stuff like that. So he’s been doing that all his working life.

Ella: I would like to go to university and study to be a journalist. I would also like to travel the world with my camera and write a book eventually.

Wonderful. I used to be on the New Zealand press council for a number of years and we used to have to look at articles, or cartoons quite often, that had been published in the paper and people had put complaints about. So, I’m fairly well familiar with the workings of the newspaper business. Good luck to you for Journalism, it’s an important profession.

Eliza: I am not entirely sure what I’d like to do when I leave school. I’ll definitely be taking a gap year if I do go to university.

That’s a good idea.

Eliza: But when it comes to things I enjoy doing and researching, I quite enjoy Classical Studies, Art History, and the Arts in General.

They used to have a rule in Soviet Russia, when after leaving high school everybody had to go and work in a factory or manual labour for two years before they were allowed to go to university. This was to try and help people to understand what life was like when you weren’t among the privileged. Whether it worked out or not I don't know but they used to do that.

Eliza: It kind of forces people to kind of take a reality check and earn some money and life experience.

Good luck with that.

Stefan: Pip, thank you so much, this has been a huge honour for us to hear your story.

You're very welcome.