Early days at Ti Point School
These notes were written up from a tape recording that Agnes Matheson made one afternoon as she described life at Ti Point School to some of her nephews.
The Ti Point School was the school that replaced the old Whangateau School at Dacre’s Claim. It was erected about the turn of the century on the site about an acre in size at the junction of the Ti Point Road and the Leigh-Matakana road. It was bounded on two sides by the road, and on another side by tall tea tree perhaps seven or eight feet tall, and on the other side, at the top of the hill, by very scrubby two-foot high tea tree. The ground was very rough and sloping, probably the roughest school ground there ever was – there wasn’t any naturally level ground. A piece of ground was levelled out for the school building itself, and also a small area out from the door for the children to assemble and have their phys-ed on. Also scooped out was a little flat ground on the top side of the school where there was a long seat, full length of the school. Then the ground rose, fairly steeply, up to the back fence which was up near the top of the hill. An area was scooped out there long enough to make a cricket pitch on. About a chain from the cricket pitch was the girls’ toilet, well away from the school; it was quite a long climb to get up to the girls’ toilet, and the girls had to pass through the area where all the boys were playing to go to their toilets. – And with lots of remarks, as you can imagine! The boys’ toilet was on the south side, in a direct line with the School, still a chain or two away, near the southern boundary of the school ground. Between the school and the road, on the bottom side of the school, was a shelter-shed open on one side, with seats round the other three sides, where we could go when it rained.
Behind the boys’ toilet the big boys made a slide – the soil was all clay – they took the grass off, and worked on it till they got a good long slippery slide about a chain long. If it wasn’t wet and muddy enough they carried water from the school and watered it, till they really got it so nobody could stand up on it. You started at the top and you slid at great speed down to the bottom. When they were feeling very generous and kind the big boys – two of them – would take hands with a small child and run him down the slide for a nice slither in the mud. On that side of the school, which would be the southerly side, we played running games. One we called Kingie Seenie, one we called Prisoners’ Base, and relay races, and those sort of things, round there, between the school and where the boys’ toilet was. Above the school on the northerly side in the direction of the girls’ toilets was where cricket and football and rounders were played. At the very top end of the enclosure, at the very top end, up where it was rising, well up the hill, there was a small piece fenced off for a garden.
At one time the big boys in the school worked off their energy by making houses in the tea tree scrub that was in the school reserve just outside the school ground, and they would bring axes from home, cut down the tea tree and weave it, and girls would pat moss onto the floors and make model houses. This was really fun, it was really constructive. The game like this of making the houses would last weeks until the house was complete, and then of course interest died. Another occupation of the boys and quite often of the girls too was in the winter time when the clay was nice and cloying – lovely yellow clay all round there – to make little clay balls about an inch in diameter, find a nice switchy stick, tanehaka was better than tea tree, and stick the ball of clay on the end of it and then flick the clay ball as far as you could. Great Battles went on between the children on their way home: just up the Ti Point road, and just down the Big Omaha road, there would be a war set up with these clay balls on sticks.
The school itself was a one-roomed building, vertically sliding windows, with a draught board at the bottom end of the window to keep the cold wind from coming into the classroom if the windows were open at all; one entrance, which was on the northern side; steps up to a porch; in the porch, in my day, was a hand-basin, and a container of water with a pumice filter in it, so that the water could be filtered for us to drink. The porch also had hooks for holding the children’s bags and coats. As you entered the classroom on the right, against that corner wall, there was a cupboard which contained the library, and on top of the cupboard all sorts of geometric shapes – cubes, cones, probably – I don’t know what they were intended for – we had to use them as drawing models – very exciting, I don’t think! The windows on that side looked out on the road; they were fairly high from the floor level, so only the teacher was ever tall enough to look out of them anyway. One teacher we had used to stand with her elbow on the window ledge and while attending to us she could watch whatever traffic there was going by – and there wasn’t very much. Now on the left of the entrance there was a hot-dog stove with a chimney going up through the room, the same sort of stoves as most schools had, and an iron railing round it where we hung wet clothes when we had arrived at school wet. Then on the far corner on that side was another cupboard that contained books and papers and textbooks and teaching equipment – chalk boxes, boxes of slate pencils, and the cane. There were two blackboards out front on two tall easels. The back of the room was just a wall with no windows in it; on that were hung the surplus maps that were not in current use, a chart of the anatomy of the body which was used for health lessons, and I think that was all.
All our school work was done on slates, with slate pencils. The desks were made with a slot at the top edge of the desk to hold the slates, and a compartment under the top of the desk to hold our books. Children who sat in front of us who wanted to be very mischievous only had to tip the top of the slate towards them for the bottom of the slate to scoot our books all on the floor; then we had to bend down and pick them all up again.
The school was on such sloping ground that on the bottom side of the school, which wasn’t boarded down to the ground, there was an opening about four or five feet tall; under there they stored the firewood that was used for the school and under there on cold and windy days the primers were sent out with an older child to crouch under there and do their reading. So much for what the school and the school ground was like.
The first teacher to teach in that building was a man named Albert Lewin Shepherd, who later taught at Port Albert School. My older sister, who was about two years older than I was, attended school in the latter term of Mr Shepherd’s tenure. He was followed by a man named Mr Elliot, Sydney James Elliot, who when he resigned from the Ti Point School took up law and became the solicitor who had the Elliot and Holden business in Warkworth for so long afterwards. Mr Elliot had been there a year or so when I started school. He was a very popular man. At that time Ti Point and Big Omaha schools were half-time schools, and he taught three days at one school and three days at the other. I think that, by the time I was starting, Ti Point was then full time – I don’t remember going only three days a week. Mr Elliot was a very kind man. I started school before I was five; I started in February and was five in April. I can just remember as a little five-year old – a little tiny skinny five-year old! – we went for a picnic down to the Back Beach, and Mr Elliot picky-backed me up the hill home; – he thought it too far for a little girl like me to walk!
He was followed by a teacher named Large, nick-named Daddy Large by the children: he wasn’t at all liked, he was very tall wrinkly man who wasn’t well, spent most of his time taking pills, he seemed to be ducking behind the blackboard taking pills. He was a very severe man, I think very cruel; he wore sandshoes in the classroom and he used to tip-toe up the rows of desks with a cane and lash any unsuspecting child who was not writing perfectly or had made spelling mistakes, – they wouldn’t even know he was there, and he just lashed them across the shoulders. He didn’t stay very long.
He was followed by a woman named Miss Shanahan, M. A. Shanahan. Miss Shanahan taught me from standard two I think right on through till just before I left st sixteen. So all those years she was there; – a very big roll, around about 36 children. She lived at Whangateau Domain in a house there; usually walked to school, but at one stage she had a pony that she rode on. Year by year she never missed a day’s attendance. She got to school about eight o’clock, with a nine o’clock opening.
During all the years that Miss Shanahan was there, she held a test for spelling and for arithmetic every Friday, and marks were recorded, and prizes given at the end of the year for the most marks in those subjects. Friday night sometimes she would be at school till six or seven o’clock marking the stack of books that was put up on her table, and then she had the long walk home after that.
There was no secondary school in Rodney at all then. I was twelve when I got proficiency, and my people couldn’t afford to board me in Auckland, so Miss Shanahan said come back to school and we’ll go on with work. Well I went on through standard seven – it was when I was thirteen – and got a scholarship, and went on and got an intermediate exam, and then on till I got Teachers ‘ and stayed there till I was sixteen. She kept us older children who had passed proficiency for extra coaching: she’d keep us on till five o’clock giving us our secondary school work. She was just wonderful. Several children have her to thank who went on into the teaching profession, for she taught us till we were old enough to start pupil teaching; – we couldn’t start teaching till sixteen. My older sister did that, and I could name several other people too.
We at Ti Point School were pretty proud of Miss Shanahan’s ability. She had the reputation, we believed, If being best sole-charge teacher in the Auckland Education Board’s area, and how proud we were when it was recommended by the inspectors that other sole charge teachers in the area spend a day in our school observing Miss Shanahan’s teaching! We thought this was pretty good when we had a teacher who the teachers of other schools had to come and observe! That flat area out at the front of the school that we used for assembly was used every day for Swedish Drill; very methodical was Miss Shanahan, and after lunch, before we went into school and before the afternoon, we had phys ed, which took say half an hour. She must have been very good at working out a timetable, because each of these classes, from primer one right through to standard seven, would be working busily, each class fitting in with the other class. Very few things were taken communally. Singing was of course, and also when she gave talks – health talks, civics, and talks like that. Little children were listening too – I don’t know what they got out of it – they were probably doing handwork at the same time, anyway. Very seldom did she read to us, but I’ll never forget her reading ‘Evangeline’ to us. I can still see her standing at that window with her elbow on the window ledge reading
This is the forest primeval,
the murmuring pines and the hemlocks.
It fascinated us, the tone of her voice.
Most of the children at the school had a long way to go. There were a lot of children attending the school from Ti Point. The pioneers who settled on Ti Point in about the late ’80s – there could have been seven or eight households, with large families – all had children going to school at the turn of the century, and at one time there were well over twenty children going from Ti Point alone. And then children came from Big Omaha, and came from almost as far as Leigh, although the Little Omaha School was about a mile on the other side of Leigh. The children living in Leigh were almost equidistant between the two schools, and they sometimes went to one school and sometimes went to another; but Miss Shanahan had such a reputation for being a good teacher that parents living in Leigh who were most anxious for their children to have the best education that they could get, these parents transferred their children to Ti Point School, and quite a few did this.
Same of the children rode horses to school. The children on the Big Omaha road had a very long way to go, and they rode their horses to school, and there was a little enclosure alongside the school where the horses were kept, the ‘Horse Paddock’. Most of the country schools in the old days had horse paddocks. I lived about a mile and a bit from the school, one of a family of seven. We had this long walk along the Ti Point road, no road metal, deep mud in the winter, dusty dusty roads in the summer, hard cloddy roads in between times.
Miss Shanahan was followed by a very young girl – no more than twentyish, I would think. Her name was Mary Campbell: she was a very bright pretty girl, thoroughly enjoyed life in the district, loved the country dances. At that time I was fifteenish, and loved going to dances too, and had been going to dances for years because during the first world
war my father used to play the music for the dances that raised money to help the Patriotic Funds. Once I turned twelve or thirteen I used to go with my father and mother attending these dances, so I met the teacher on an equal social ground when she was attending the dances too. I just stayed on there perhaps a year or so with Miss Campbell, perhaps less, because once I turned sixteen I got an appointment as a Pupil Teacher, so I left. Everybody loved Miss Campbell, she was very good, though she wasn’t probably as efficient a teacher as Miss Shanahan.
Miss Shanahan was very good, wonderful for the children who had the ability to keep up with the work, but she really was tough on the children who were a little slower learning, and she had no patience with the ones who weren’t going as fast as she thought they could go. It was only as I got older that I realised that she was pretty tough on the children who found difficulty in learning.
I began school in 1908, and left school in 1919, and that gave me 11 years schooling, 7 of primary school, and 4 years secondary schooling at this little sole charge school. So although I went onto Training College and did many years of teaching I never attended a secondary school, and I did the secondary school work at the Ti Point School. There were a lot of country children in our area who benefited through Miss Shanahan’s coaching of their secondary school work.