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Speech: Winston Peters - Arapohue School 140th anniversary

Speech by New Zealand First Leader and Northland MP Rt Hon Winston Peters

Arapohue School 140th anniversary,
3248 Mititai Road, Arapōhue
Dargaville, Northland
11am, Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Value of Small Rural Schools

This weekend is a happy time and it is great so many have come to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Arapōhue School.
Former pupils have come not just from around New Zealand but Australia, and South Africa also.
I note one of your ex-pupils is a certain Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Hon Murray McCully.
Obviously his education here must have done him a lot of good!


One hundred and forty years is a long time and many thousands have gone through Arapōhue School.
We can trace the school’s origins to The Education Act of 1877 which made it compulsory that all children received free primary education and they had to attend school.
As a result hundreds of small schools like Arapōhue sprang up all over New Zealand.
In those days, and well into the 20th century, most country schools comprised one or two classrooms with one or two teachers.
Children often walked kilometres to school or rode horses.
I am sure some of you here today did just that.


One of the early pupils who did this was Hazel Simpkin.
This is what she remembered
“On 4 February 1936, when I was seven years old, I started attending school for the first time. It was a great adventure getting to Arapōhue school the first day, and the memory of this journey has always stayed with me.
“It was a time of one of the big February floods, and the bridge over Ōkahu Stream and the low filling on the Wainui road were covered in water, quite cutting off our home from the Arapōhue district.
“Our father saddled up two horses, Rosemary and I rode together on one, and we went by horseback several miles along the ridges of our farm, over Finlayson’s land, down Curnow’s Road, and out on the Ōkahu road to higher up on the Ōkahu Stream, where a new concrete bridge was in the process of being built.
“The flood waters were up here, too, and I remember that my hand was taken by one of the workmen here, and I was led across the approaches and the bridge, with flood waters all about us.
“The next stage of our journey was riding across Ambury’s farm and out onto our road again where our father had arranged for a car to wait for us at Harry Turner’s farm.
“Then we completed the last part of the journey by more conventional means.
“We reached school long after lessons had started for the day, and I remember these two shy little girls standing at the door with our father in his riding clothes, and the headmaster Mr McKenzie coming out to receive us.
“I don’t remember much about my start at school, except that I recited a poem about Grasshopper Green, and received some praise for that.
“Miss Ellison was our teacher in the junior room. She rode to school each day, and it was the duty of the sweeping boys in the afternoon to arrange two easel blackboards to form a screen behind which she could get changed from her riding clothes.
“Woe betide anyone who attempted to enter the classroom until the change was completed.”


It was tough in those early years.
Education Board inspectors visited primary schools each year and examined what each child had learned.
Children who passed the examination were allowed to move up into the next class; those who failed had to repeat the year.
The results would often be published in local newspapers, and there was great pressure on children to pass.
At that time children could leave school at the age of 12 and not attend secondary schools so primary education was very important.


Some of our prime ministers’ formal education ended with primary school:
Keith Holyoake, Governor-General between 1977 and 1980 and Prime Minister between 1960 and 1972 left school aged 12 to work on the family farm.
Norman Kirk, Prime Minister between 1972 and 1974 also left school at the age of 12.


There is much to be said that is good about small country schools:
Pupils of all ages mix together.
There are close ties with the community.
Pupils are often more self-reliant than in the cities.


There have no doubt been challenges over those 140 years for Arapōhue School and dramatic times such as when twice the school burnt down.
A high point for Arapōhue was in 2007 when this new $900,000 school was opened.
Since then, unfortunately the school roll has dwindled away
It is a fact in New Zealand that once-thriving communities in our heartland are facing a vicious circle of depopulation.
Farms have got bigger and young people are seeking opportunities in the cities.
This is not a day for politics but the decline of rural New Zealand needs to stop.
We need to slow the population drift to our cities and reinvigorate our rural areas.
There should always be a place for small rural schools such as Arapōhue.

Perhaps the most shared memory of those of us who attended small country schools is best encapsulated in Goldsmith’s famous poem written so many years ago.

The Village Schoolmaster

Beside yon straggling fence that skirts the way
With blossom'd furze unprofitably gay,
There, in his noisy mansion, skill'd to rule,
The village master taught his little school;
A man severe he was, and stern to view,
I knew him well, and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
The days disasters in his morning face;
Full well they laugh'd with counterfeited glee,
At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:
Full well the busy whisper, circling round,
Convey'd the dismal tidings when he frown'd:
Yet he was kind; or if severe in aught,
The love he bore to learning was in fault.
The village all declar'd how much he knew;
'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And e'en the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing too, the parson own'd his skill,
For e'en though vanquish'd he could argue still;
While words of learned length and thund'ring sound
Amazed the gazing rustics rang'd around;
And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew,
That one small head could carry all he knew.
But past is all his fame. The very spot
Where many a time he triumph'd is forgot

Yet, 140 years later, today all is not forgot.
Today we remember the most powerful institution that made, still makes this community.

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