The Best Little School of All
This little school was once located at Blue Cliffs, along the border of North Otago and South Canterbury, I suppose around 40 kilometres south west of Timaru in New Zealand.
Just a few notes on its history. It appears it was first mooted by Robert Rhodes in about 1909. At the time, Robert was the owner of the large sheep station, Blue Cliffs, and took a keen interest in community affairs, as well as keeping a fatherly eye on those families who worked on neighbouring farms.
He was concerned that children from the area around Blue Cliffs, to get any form of education, needed to travel to the Esk Valley School, a distance of around ten kilometres. There was no form of transport other than riding a pony or the horse and cart. Robert voice his concern by visiting the homesteads surrounding Blue Cliffs, in order to estimate how many families would pledge support for a new school, if one were to be established.
Not only did the Rhodes family donate land to this project, they also milled and transported the timber to build the school and the teachers residence. All this came from a plantation on his own property. In June 1910, Robert Rhodes performed the official ceremony of declaring the Blue Cliffs Household School, officially open.
The first teacher, a Miss Symon's, took a keen interest in those first five pupils who attended Blue Cliffs, during the second year, the roll is thought to have swelled to twelve.
Some said, Robert had an almost paternal interest in the school, and dropped in on many occasions, just to see how the children were progressing. He liked to keep thing simple, and used to set a few mathematical problems of his own, just to test the kids from time to time. On one of these random visits, he decided young Willie Beattie should be the recipient of his mathematical knowledge. He said to young Willie, "if your father paid a man four shillings to plough one acre, how much would he pay him to plough a paddock containing fifty six acres?"
Quick as a flash, Willie retorted indignantly, "but Sir,-- my father would never dream of paying a man four shillings, he always pays five shillings." It was plainly obvious that young Willie had done his homework.
This little school brings back some lingering memories of my time at school, especially the day we all auditioned for a singing part in the school concert. The headmaster, like it or not, every kid would sing a verse of his choice.
Now I had a voice likened to that of a rusty nail. I had just reached to peak of that first octave, when the headmaster clapped his hands over his ears, and screeching,...."for goodness sake boy, go and sit down."
To those kids who attended this little school at Blue Cliffs during those early years, it was most probably the best little school of all. A short poem I read somewhere and entitled the "Best little school of all," seems appropriate to end this story.
It's good to see the school we knew
The land of youth and dreams
To greet again the rule we knew
Before we took the streams
Though long we've missed the sight of her
Our hearts may not forget
We've the old delight in her
We keep her honour yet
The men that tanned the hide of us
Our daily foes and friends
They shall not lose their pride in us
How'er the journey ends
Their voice to us who sing of it
No more this message bears
But round the world shall ring of it
And all who are be theirs
We honour yet the school we knew
The best school of all
We honour yet the rule we knew
Till the last bell call
For working days and holidays
And glad and melancholy days
They were great days and jolly days
At the best school of all