Tahunanui - the school by the sands


The story of Tahunanui School mirrors the rapid development its seaside location and the nearby beach into an established community and popular summer holiday destination.1

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View of Tahuna from Paddy's knob. Nelson Provincial Museum collection. 320595

It began in a tiny lean-to shed in Muritai Street in 1908. Designated a temporary side school for Stoke School, it initially accommodated 13 junior pupils so they did not have the long walk to and from Stoke each day that the senior pupils made. 

Situated in the then sparsely populated area around the beach, the Nelson Education Board never expected the small school, originally called Tatahi School, to become permanent or, for the community it served, to grow much larger than it already was.

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Opening of the Tahuna State School, 9 November 1910. Nelson Provincial Museum, FN Jones Collection. 3212422

But the school quickly became the focal point for its community and its more modern motto “I can, I will” can be seen to reflect the attitude of those early parents and residents who fought for its continued existence and expansion, just as they did for the development of Tahuna(nui) and its safe swimming beach

A rapidly rising roll saw the opening of the first purpose built classroom in 19102 on land purchased for the school in Rawhiti Street. This coincided with the Tahunanui population reaching a large enough mass to call for “a post office, a store, refreshment rooms, a regular coach and a parcel delivery service”.3 By 1920 the population of Tahuna reached 500, allowing the formation of a town board.

Now known as Tahuna (and, from 1922, Tahunanui) the school, with a roll of more than 60, became independent of Stoke School in late 1913.  For the next 80 years it grew steadily in roll and size, reflecting the growth in the population of Tahunanui itself, until reaching its peak of more than 400 pupils in the mid-1990s.

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Sheryl Kerwin, 6, paddles through storm water at Tahunanui School. Nelson Provincial Museum. Geoffrey C Wood Collection. 132_fr8

Reminders in the early years that the school was surrounded by farms and rural activities were frequent.  Offensive smells from a neighbouring rendering plant saw some parents  remove their children from the school and, more than once, animals trespassed onto the school grounds. Goats ate school trees, pigeons fouled the drinking water, and various animals escaped into the grounds from nearby slaughter houses.

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Tahunanui School. View of a large group of boys performing physical training at Tahunanui Beach. Nelson Provincial Museum. Kingsford collection 160516

The school quickly developed a close relationship with Tahunanui Beach. In fact a lot of the beach ended up at the school.  On a number of occasions tons of sand were moved from the beach and, with “spoil”, gravel, “fill” and earth, spread across the low lying school grounds to build them up and provide better drainage. Unfortunately flooding at the school remained a constant issue for successive school committees and boards of trustees well into the opening years of the 21st century.

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Health Camp, 1937. Nelson Provincial Museum, Kingsford Collection. 162145

The curative values of the seaside saw a children’s health camp established at the school over the summers of 1936-37 and 1937-38.

Before a school pool was built in 1945, aquatic carnivals were held at the beach and classes went swimming there. Pupils were also known to run down to the beach at lunchtimes for a quick swim before afternoon classes.  From 1996 the senior school has headed to the beach each year for an annual mid-winter swim.

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Tahuna School's Golden Jubilee, 1964. Nelson PhotoNews, 4 Apr 1964 p.34

During World War II the school’s proximity, not only to the beach but also to the Nelson Aerodrome,  taken over by the Royal New Zealand Air Force for the war’s duration, required an action plan to ensure the children’s safety in the event of a Japanese attack. Two air raid shelters were built into the front playing field.

In the 1960s the school held fundraising dances at the beach and sold fresh fruit and vegetables from a roadside stall to those staying at the Tahunanui campground.  Pupils were involved in planting trees in beach picnic areas and the Hounsell Circle (where Natureland now is) and from the 1990s collected rubbish from the beach.

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Pupils with rubbish collected from the Tahunanui back beach, 21 April 1990. Nelson Provincial Museum, Nelson Mail Collection. C3119

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Celebrating 100 years - The 2007 Room 2 pupils surround principal Paul Drummond with the number 100 as they start to prepare for the school’s centennial celebrations in 2008. Nelson Mail photo.

The school’s connections with its community were strong.  With no hall of its own, the school used the Tahunanui Town Hall from at least the 1920s for productions, concerts and fundraising dances for many years, and a scout troop established by headmaster R.J. Marston during World War II was connected to the school, as was the Nelson Amateur Roller Skating Club in the 1950s. 

By 1944 the population of Tahunanui had reached 1,000 but it was the post-war baby boom that saw the suburb really grow, resulting in many new school and community amenities, and the construction of holiday accommodation for beach visitors.

The school celebrated a century of education at Tahunanui in 2008 and remains at the heart of its community. This can be seen in the Muritai Centre, developed in 2003 from a former open plan classroom block into a large multi-purpose building used as a school hall and shared community centre. 


Sources used in this story

  1. Stade, K. (2008) The School by the Sands, A Century of Tahunanui School, Nelson 1908-2008, Nelson: Tahunanui School
  2. Progress of Tahuna (1910, November 11) Nelson Evening Mail, p.3. http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=NEM19101111.2.9
  3. Progress of Tahuna 

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