Home of the Barefoot Learner

In an extract from his history of Paekākāriki school, Michael O’Leary writes about its history from an old farming shed by the railway in 1886, to the celebrated home of the barefoot learner today. The book is available from the Paekākāriki Station Museum, Dixie 888 Cuts and Kakariki Books at the Station. Moira, Dave, and Michael spoke to Paekākāriki FM.

Paekākāriki School, 1936. The railway runs along the back fence. Photo: KCDC Library

It is said that the first school in Paekākāriki was built on land owned by Francis Wilson Smith and he also relocated an old shed to the site which became the 1st School Building in 1886. By 1881 Francis Wilson had 8 children of his own and along with those of his brothers they were probably quite happy to have a school and keep them all in the one place.

Photo: KCDC Library

It wasn’t long however before the conditions became unbearable and many  letters were written to the Evening Post newspaper complaining about the building.

On April 1, 1886, with one teacher, Miss Dorothea Hamilton, seven children, and no desks or books, school began in Paekākāriki. The roll crept up slowly, but it  was the 1920s before there were more than 100 pupils. In the early days of the school it was in an isolated area off what is now the state highway at the north end of the  village. 

The place had a lot of railway houses for staff. People thought Paekākāriki was a dirty, sooty little place, and it was in those days. But when you moved away from the railway and engine sheds, things were different. The social life in Paekākāriki has always been very good, very united. It was mainly railway people and the church. Any function that was on, everyone went to. They were nearly all held in St Peters Hall, as they still are today.

During the 1920s, the school was reported to have one of the best gardens in
the Manawatu/Kapiti area. To form it soil was brought down from McKays swamp by relief workers. However, by the 1930s, locals felt that the old school was badly situated on its main road site. Children had to cross a double line of railway tracks, and traffic hazards were accentuated by the increase of road traffic after Centennial Highway was completed. The problem worsened in the early 1940s with the construction of the US Marine camps. In 1943, the school committee wrote to the Education Board
threatening to resign “en masse” if notification of a new school was not received.

In the 1950s several pupils north of the school were bussed every day, making  the journey in old Bedford school buses with seats running longitudinally down the  sides. In 1995 there were major renovations made to the senior block, a covered deck  and seating running along the north side of the classrooms. This allowed extra space  for recreational activities and provided shelter during winter weather. The school hall  was enlarged by incorporating one of the classrooms and this space was used on several occasions ranging from school assemblies to community events.

Since the School first opened it has been at the heart of the village’s community. Ngāti Haumia are the local hapū and the school acknowledges the important status  they have as mana whenua. Paekākāriki is a small village of around 1500 residents nestled between the hills, the Tasman Sea and Queen Elizabeth Park on the Kāpiti Coast. We are fortunate to have a close-knit community which embraces diversity and the arts, has a strong communal spirit, and is passionate about our environment.  

A community notice brought to you by paekakariki.nz.