Caroline School Western Southland. New Zealand
I can just imagine the uproar if today’s kids were expected to be taught school in a building like this these days, 2012. Yet more than 100 years ago it was considered to be somewhat normal in those outlying districts of New Zealand. This old school was once located at a small place called Caroline, west of McLeod Road, in an area between Lumsden and Dipton. From what I can gather, at the outset, this building was actually the original office and storage depot for the New Zealand Agricultural Company. Closer settlement of Western Southland during the late 1800’s increased the need for a school in the district. This old commercial building, no longer in use, became a logical choice for the first Caroline School, established in 1891.
Of course, later a new classroom was constructed on the eastern side of McLeod Road.
Native bush and bull rushes, which surrounded the classroom in those early days served as a playground. However, seepage from the hill behind made the area extremely wet underfoot. So wet in fact, that at one stage, complaints were laid about the condition of what little bare ground there was around the classroom for the pupils to play. A small working-bee attempted to put this right by cutting clumps of rushes and laying them across, what was recorded as a sea of mud, along the track and around the building.
Like so many of those small schools, they weren’t without their difficult times. In September of 1902 the school closed for over a week due to heavy snowstorm. Then around 1927 the school was forced to close its doors due to the roll dwindling to only a handful of students. Those few who did remain, rode the steam train into Lumsden and a much larger school. By 1933, numbers had again increased, so it was back to school as usual at Caroline. Then in 1937 fire destroyed the school completely, forcing lessons to be continued at the home of Francis Falconer. Later, to end the year, lessons were continued at the home of George Musselwhite. At the beginning of 1938, the Education Board arranged for a school bus service to begin transporting children to Dipton, thus concluding a special piece of Southland history.
However one must never forget the school committees, a tireless band of workers, as well as some of those colourful individuals. Stories are often told of meetings where I quote; ‘the school committee meeting last night was so hot, there was no need of the fire.’ It was often said that coats came off at committee meeting at Caroline. A meeting without a decent argument or a punch up, or perhaps the threat of one, was deemed to be a very timid meeting indeed. While these arguments raged, it is a wonder any business was completed at all, perhaps not a venue for the faint hearted.
Yet the kids who attended that little school at Caroline considered the best school of all.
A little poem I read somewhere seems to be appropriate at this point. It reads;-
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
We’ve the old delight of her
We keep her honour yet
The men that tanned the hide of us
Our daily foes and friends
The 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
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.