Story: Country schooling

Riding to school on Great Barrier Island

Riding to school on Great Barrier Island

Lesley Rockell (then Lesley Mabey) rode to and from school in the 1940s and 1950s on Great Barrier Island. (From front) Lesley, Murray and Laurie Mabey are shown seated on their horse before setting off to ride the four miles to Okiwi School on Great Barrier Island in the 1950s.

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Contributed by Lesley Rockell

School for us was on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Okiwi School opened in 1948 with a roll of five, rising to nine by the time I left form two. I began there in standard two, having had correspondence up until the school opened.

There was no road to our home and farm until 1954–55. We were four miles from the school. My brother Murray and cousin Laurie and I rode a horse (later two horses) out through the sandhills covered in lupins and tea tree, then across a tidal estuary with rushes and mangroves. If high tide was around 8–9 a.m., often it was too deep to get across the first part. When the water reached where we were, we would wait until the tide dropped then try again. Afternoon tides were never as high. When the tide was out we would gallop across. Mostly it took an hour or more to get to school and home again, depending on the tide levels across that mile.

After the swamp we rode through tea tree, and across a wooden bridge that got very slippery when wet. Dad put tar and sand on it to make it safer. Two more miles onwards on an often muddy track we’d arrive at school, which didn’t start until 9.30 am to give ‘the Mabey kids’ extra time to get there. Sometimes, if the weather turned atrocious during the day, our teacher would kindly keep us at her place for the night.

We all had long oilskin coats that came down over the top of our gumboots in winter, and also wore an oilskin hat in the wet. Our saddle was a sheepskin inside a wheat sack. No stirrups to get our feet caught in should we fall off, which we did often. However, if we fell off (due to speed or the horse shying at seeing a sheep in the lupins) a bank or stump had to be found to get back on again. When a second cousin, Beven, started school we began using two horses – two on each one. This often resulted in a race home and, if the tide was out, the rider behind reached home covered in wet sand or mud. I remember our quickest trip home was twenty minutes, and I was the one covered in sand and mud!

There is no longer a horse paddock at the school, and a school bus was running by the time my nephews started at the school in the 1980s. Then there were two teachers and a larger roll. I’m sure our adventures getting to and from school were much more fun.

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How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Country schooling - Personal experiences of country schools', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/community-contribution/28267/riding-to-school-on-great-barrier-island (accessed 26 March 2017)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 24 Nov 2008