Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 5, May 1966

By (late) J. W. FAWCETT

My link with Ohinemuri was forged when I travelled daily from Te Aroha to the Paeroa District High School, which since 1902 had boasted a room and a teacher for Secondary Education, something my home town had not yet achieved. Country children in those days had little choice when wishing to follow an academic career, and two of my sisters were already teachers. As I liked youngsters I decided to join the ranks of "Pupil Teachers" who learned their job by doing it and studying for higher examinations by night.

It was midwinter when I was appointed to the Owharoa School in the 2nd term of 1906. My first trip from Paeroa to Owharoa by coach is the one I remember most vividly. I was young, and proud of having the front seat beside the driver, Mr. Maurice Crimmins. It was a fine morning but a heavy frost lay on the ground and there were spectacular icicles on the steep cliffs of the Karangahake Gorge.

When we stopped near the "Black Bridge" which led to the School perched on a ledge across the river, I jumped down, or rather fell off the coach, my legs being so cold that they literally refused to support me, and I thus gained a reputation that took some living down. The joke-loving driver took great delight in spreading the report that he had delivered the new teacher in such a helpless condition that he couldn't stand when he got off the coach.

Amidst much laughter I made my way to the school where the Head Teacher was Mr. Elmsley and the Infant Mistress, Miss M. Carson. I was given about 30 pupils in S. II and III, and have always looked back on those days as my happiest as a teacher. The children were keen and eager to learn and I was very very raw, quite ignorant of my limitations, but full of enthusiasm. And somehow it worked for we were a very happy group.

It seems that this sunny site for the school had been chosen in 1882, because it was to cater for the children of Waitawheta farmers as well as for those of Owharoa miners of whom there were many. There were also so many mines that a safe playground area was not available on the northern side of the river. The black swing bridge crossed from a point near a square boarding house which I understand is still used as a residence.

On making recent enquiries I find that the first Teacher was Mr. Hames who had 27 pupils his successors being Messrs. Sullivan, Ritchie, Haeusler, Johnston, May, Gillespie and Elmsley. In the early years the Teachers also taught part-time at Mackaytown or Waitekauri.

I boarded first at Owharoa and then later in Paeroa. The daily ride out from Paeroa by push bike and later by horse was most enjoyable in the Summer, but during the Winter months even the pony dreaded the cold winds that swept through the gorge. And I must admit disliking the chore of pushing my bike up the notorious "Turners Hill" - now almost unrecognisable. Occasionally we were allowed to travel by rail on a ballast train with open trucks, and were lucky if we made the grade through the tunnel the first try. If not, back we would slide away down past the Karangahake Station, and then off again with more steam. There was no ventilation in the tunnel and you can imagine the state of our clothes and the colour of our skins. Smoke seemed to ooze even from our ears. However it was an experience to remember. The river in flood too, with water pouring through the tunnel, was an unforgettable sight.

Most week-ends were spent at my home at Te Aroha and this entailed a long ride over the Karangahake hills to Rotokohu and beyond, about 16 miles, and very little of it easy going. It was a wonderful trek in the Summer but in Winter the rain often made the way very slippery and darkness would fall long before I reached Te Aroha. But at least I learned what a companion an animal can be and often I found myself talking to Darky, patting her silky black neck as she skillfully negotiated the danger spots. I'm sure she understood.

While I was still on the Staff, the Owharoa School building was moved across the river, and re-erected on the hill overlooking Waikino, the population having moved in that direction with the opening of the huge Victoria Battery.

The Goldfield was noted for its footballers and I remember with pleasure the enthusiasm of the Waikino youngsters I coached. Those were indeed among the happiest days of my teaching career.

The late Mr. "Jake" Fawcett died about a year ago. He was an outstanding Head Master and is affectionately remembered by his many colleagues and l000's of pupils as a great humanitarian. His last position was that of H.M., of the Auckland Normal School connected with the Teachers Training College. His sister Miss Annie Fawcett taught at Paeroa School 60 years ago.