A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Thursday, 12 April 2012

My Old School


Oh yes, I have very fond memories of this little school at Albury. Actually, I was born in this little hamlet, nestled in the lee of the Brothers Range and on the fringes of the Mackenzie Country, just where the TeNgawai and Opawa rivers meet.
Well before my time however, and sometime around 1880, a little private school, was conducted by Mr Radford.  I have reason to believe his name was William Oldfield Radford.  Now, this little private school, so I am led to believe, was conducted in a spare room at the back of the original Albury Store, where it appears it may well have been located near the early Albury  Hotel, then owned by a chap by the name of McLeod.
This settlement was growing rapidly, what with the railway extension pushing through to Fairlie Creek and beyond.  However, the lack of education facilities was of concern to those town fathers. 
A public meeting was called, most probably in the hotel, on August 18th 1881.
Chaired by John Rutherford, the most prominent figure in the district, this led to the formation of the inaugural school committee and the subsequent establishment of the townships first public school.
Almost immediately, the first sod was turned on land eventually bounded by Duke St, Mt Nessing Rd, Station St, and Queen St. Only then, and under the direction of the Education Board, work began on construction.  By July 1882, work was completed and the one-roomed school was handed over to the School Committee.
Following the establishment of a bank account with the B N Z Bank, the committee advertised for a teacher in the Lyttelton Times, the Otago Daily Times and the Timaru Herald.  John Maddison was selected from several applications and appointed as sole teacher for the salary of 100 pounds.  John began teaching in the new school on September of 1882.
By 1885, the roll had risen to 25 students, although this was to eventually rise much later to close on 150 students.
It was not until the turn of the century that a second classroom was to be added to the first, this time it was with the assistance of a grant by the Education Board.

Being a member of the Albury School Committee in those days appeared to be a rather hazardous occupation, as one Mr E. Richardson found out.
As chairman of the School Committee and in 1893, he called an extra special meeting of the committee to debate an urgent issue: however he failed to attend.  Although he apologized profusely at a later meeting, the meeting was in no mood for compromise, they voted him out of office.

Rural children were definitely at a disadvantage in those early years, particularly if they were to go beyond primary school.  It is also interesting to note that, up until the early 1900s, and because of financial constraints, secondary schooling was not available to Albury students, and most likely not available to a number of other districts.  Unless of course a student won a scholarship, to either attend Timaru Girls or Boys High School respectively.
Around 1904, some bright individual claimed to have struck gold in the hills around Mt Nessing, several miles west of the township.  Such was the hullabaloo that the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Richard Seddon, or ‘King Dick’ as he was affectionately known, made a visit to the Albury School arriving by train, and immediately declaring a school holiday. 
No doubt Seddon had visions of all the tax the Government was going to collect from this gold strike. During his visit to Albury, he took a drive in a horse and trap to Mt Nessing, where he was going to visit this new goldmine.  Incidentally, this project was never going to amount to anything, it turned out to be ‘fools gold’, nothing more than a good strike of mineral silicate, worth absolutely nothing at that time, now however, it could have been a much different story.
Never mind, the kids all made a great picnic out of a disappointing day for the adults.   Prime Minister and all made the return journey to Albury aboard a large trailer drawn by a traction engine, although the kids loved it, I’m not sure it was the same for all those red faces from that stuff up on the most grandest of scales.  The legacy of that little venture, Albury has never seen a Prime Minister since that fateful day.

Oh how I remember that little school, it seems a million years ago.  The single drinking fountain fed from the steel tank behind the school, which froze solid in the winter. Prior to my day it was fed from the windmill in the school grounds, and before that, it was carted via horse and dray from the Opawa stream.
Of course the arrival of electricity during the 1920s, that was a novel occasion so they say.  At the time, students, with the aid of Mr Adams radio, were allowed to follow the course of Kingsford Smiths record-breaking flight across the Tasman.
With the introduction of bottled milk into schools, senior students carried several crates of milk in a special cart from the railway station every morning.  By the time we got to have a compulsory drink, there was an inch of thick sour cream on the top. Yuk.

So many delightful memories from my first week, as a gangly five year old, with my new leather school bag over my shoulder, packed with a ploughman’s lunch and wearing my shiny new boots.
Years later of course I recall the chalk that whistled past one’s ear if not paying attention to the teacher, or the edge of the ruler across the knuckles for talking. 
The towering conifer beside the classroom window, where we played each day, and the vegetable garden we tended each week, most likely to escape class.  The dusty trek to the TeNgawai River, during the height of summer, where we went for a swim.
Those other pranks that boy’s get up to, seeing who could pee through the latticework above the urinal.  Sammy Barrett and Donald Collins were the only two with high enough pressure that I knew of.
I must not forget the auditions to the school concert, and of the one year that the voice of a songbird was required for a special part.  Each boy must sing a song, any song, without being unaccompanied by music.  Now, I had a voice like a rusty nail, without the benefit of a single musical beat in my entire body, I knew class were in for a treat.  My plea’s to be excused fell on deaf ears; well they thought they were deaf until they heard me in action.  Denis O’Sullivan could sing like a lark, it sounded pretty good to me, so I thought I would have a go at that song, without even knowing the words.  When my turn came, George Robertson, the Headmaster stood with his arms folded and a smile on his face, I soon wiped that off.  I had just pumped up my lungs and let forth half a dozen notes when dear old George clapped his hands over his ears in horror and roared, “for goodness sake, go and sit down boy!”

Ahh yes, those were the days?  But life must go on, during the 1970s, my old classroom was demolished to make way for the new.  To me, that new classroom is not a patch on the old, what with its drafty windows, the oiled floors and the high smoke stained ceilings.  Not forgetting the water that froze each winter, that’s what is known, as character isn’t it.
Now just to finish.  “It sometimes hurts to remember the days that have gone beyond recall, when times and people have passed forever, drifting on the tides of time.  But let us be glad, and enjoy the glow of those many special memories.”

Have a nice day.

Noel G


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