Otaki Historical Journal No 24, 2002
Teaching staff at Otaki School in 1937, from left, Mr Williams, Miss Lochore, Miss Lambie, Jessie Wood (the author, later to be Jessie Wright), Miss Kelly, Miss Miller and headmaster Bill Adams. In the left distance is the frame of what would become Jessie's classroom. OHS photo, supplied for the Journal by Jessie Wright.
The train pulled into the station where a large Maori stood holding up a green flag and announced in a deep voice "Aw-tah-ki" (so that's how they pronounce it, I thought). I said a quick goodby to my friends and stepped off with my luggage. It was January 1937 and I was just 21.
I walked along Waerenga Road to "Rangimarie", where my board had been arranged. Later that day I found Otaki School in Mill Road where I met the headmaster, Mr Adams, and the staff, Mr Williams, Miss Kelly, Miss Lambie, Miss Miller and Miss Lochore.
Eager to begin my teaching career, it was with some dismay that I found my classroom was not at the the school but down the lane at a Lodge Hall in Waerenga Road. Quite unheard of in these times, when PAs (probationary assistants) were placed next to senior staff and well supervised. The next disappointment was the announcement that schools would not open on 1 February due to an outbreak of polio. No school! But to my delight, new-found friends invited me to join them in a picnic at the Otaki Gorge.
Black mark, teacher! I should have been at school to meet parents of new pupils and set work for the class ready for opening. I had a lot to learn about teachers' responsibilities.
Once school opened and I met my class I was in my element. The Lodge Hall was unexciting, but to my joy there was a piano. So we could have singing and music. There were several Maori children and it was a new experience for me to hear the language spoken at times, as no Maori lived in my home area. At the same time in my school days we had learned some Maori songs and read the legends, and a copy of the Treaty of Waitangi was displayed in a school window. But we pronounced Maori with a Scottish accent! However at Dunedin Teachers' College Charles Bennet was our president and later at Victoria University Henry Ngata was a fellow student.
I loved my job with my class of 30 or so co-operative pupils, so there were no problems with control. I remember fondly the flowers the little girls brought for my desk – the carnations and big-scented violets. Otaki was a wonderful gardening area.
My classroom being a block away from the main school meant the children and I had to run along the lane at intervals and lunchtimes. I recall gulping down my morning tea in a hurry as Willie Hing rang the bell. Plans were under way for a new classroom block so I knew my days at the Lodge would end before the year was out. However It was very convenient as my boarding place, Rangimarie, was just across the road.
In those days, teaching offered a wonderful career for men and women. The Depression was over. In the dark times of the early 30s, the teachers' colleges had closed. My friends and I had been the first intake to enter the re-opened Training College in 1935, and now we were out in the world. And for the first time in our lives, we had a real income – 110 pounds a year seemed like riches then.
I recall the unexpected visit of a school inspector. One morning an elderly man knocked on my school door. Before he could introduce himself, I, thinking he was a parent or grandparent, asked which pupil he had come to see. He said: "I am the senior inspector."
Horrors! Were my blackboards clean, were the children being noisy? He took a seat and set about studying my books, the register, the scheme and workbook, all the time observing my teaching, for an entire morning. As it transpired, he was an old boy of my Milton School in the south, so we parted the best of friends.
There was a ripple of excitement when the school had a visit from the All Blacks at assembly when they were in training at Otaki Beach, the year of the Springboks' visit. Down in Dunedin my brother, Rupert, was in the team (Post & Telegraph) that played the curtain-raiser to the test match against the Springboks at Carisbrook. I heard all about it in letters from home.
Rangimarie, my boarding place was originally a guest house mainly catering for Wellington people who came to enjoy sunny Otaki. It had a large garden with exotic trees that flourished in Otaki's genial climate. There was a beautiful coral tree from South Africa which overlooked the front hedge, and at the back some very big lemon trees. I helped pick the fruit for the Wellington market. Probably the newly formed Lemon Street came from the site of the original trees. Rangimarie was known for some years as the Honey House.
Many Chinese had market gardens in the town. One family lived at the back of my lodgings and my kind landlady, hearing that the elderly man was ill, brought him some soup, and was given some sweet mooncakes, rather like shortbread.
The area between our house and the Jubilee Hotel was one vast field of cabbages, alive with white butterfly, the first I had ever seen. Coming from a cool climate, I was interested to find so many different insects and garden pests prevalent in warm parts of New Zealand.
Dr Milne was rather a food faddist. He follow an American style diet of healthy living and exercise which was taking hold in the country. He lectured his niece, Wyn, and me on the benefits of healthy eating, and advocated fresh fruit and vegetables, especially lettuce, a new item not usually included in meals before then. In fact, their daughter was teased at school by the name "Lettuce Leaf" to her father's amusement. And Mrs Milne prepared some tasty salads using only natural products.
One day Dr Milne drove Wyn and me to Wellington to see the delights of the city. the main highway over the Paekakariki Hill, but he spoke of the new highway to be built following the coastline, seemingly an impossible venture. I think of that whenever I travel along that route with its grand views of Kapiti Island and Tasman waves rolling on the rocks.