Whekenui School


Whekenui School, Tory Channel

One of New Zealand's most remote schools, Whekenui School operated only from 1951 to 1962.  Local children had previously been enrolled in the Correspondence School, with an untrained supervisor paid by the parents.

Whekenui-new-school-1951.jpgThe first Whekenui School building, opened in 1951, made from leftover Army huts.
Click image to enlarge

The Perano family, owners of the Whaling Station, lobbied the Education Department for years for a school which would serve whalers' children in winter and the families of local farmers and fishermen all year.  Eventually they were successful, mainly by supplying the site and the building themselves.

When the Education Department finally agreed to the school opening in 1951, it was difficult to staff many remote schools, and Ian Kidman, an untrained 19-year-old, was offered the sole teacher position.  At first he taught in a woolshed, until an ex-army hut had been converted into a classroom. There were six pupils in the first term, then up to about thirteen when the whaling season started.  All ages and stages from Primer 1 to Form 2 were covered, a huge demand on an untrained teacher.

The next teacher was similarly young and untrained, and was given a hard time by the whalers with their teasing and tricks.  At this stage the school board requested, without success, that the teachers be allowed to use Correspondence lessons, due to their inexperience.

Subsequent teachers were usually trained, but the school facilities were deteriorating and, by 1959, a dismal school inspection reported that the buildings had outlived their useful service.  When Neil Breingan arrived in 1960, he found gaps in the floor and windows which couldn't be opened.  He described the stick used to rattle on the corrugated iron of the toilet to disturb the blowflies.  Neil also remembered the District Nurse arriving on the mail boat, racing up to the school and inspecting the children in time to race back and catch the boat again after it had delivered the mail and supplies at Okukari, a few minutes further around the bay.

Finally, in 1961, a contract was signed for relocating an unused classroom from Waikawa School and a teacher's bach from Pine Valley, as well as installing a new toilet block, cloakroom and other facilities.  Alan Hall was the new teacher, and he was to be the last.  He found it difficult sharing a room and bunk beds with one of his pupils until his new hut arrived, but gradually the school became better equipped and was running well.

whekenuil-1961.jpgThe 'new' Whekenui School building, 1961, created from an unwanted classroom at Waikawa School which had previously been used for showing movies.
Click image to enlarge

However, the 1962 whaling season was very poor. There was already at least one underage child on the roll and there would soon be only four or five pupils left, so Whekenui School closed for the last time on October 1st 1962.  It had operated for less than eleven years. 

By 1977 there were requests for the school to be reopened, from the families of local fishermen and boat-builders.  However nothing came of this, and the buildings passed into private ownership.

Without doubt the existence of Whekenui School and its survival for eleven years was mainly due to the Perano family's efforts and persistence.  Many of the costs were borne by the family although their own children used the school for only a short time.  Having a school nearby gave whaling families an additional option during the season and saved parents who were not at ease with the education system from the worry of supervising Correspondence lessons.

Read personal reminiscences about the school, gathered by the author 2006-2007 [PDF]

This is a shortened version of information from the booklet produced by Picton Museum for the Whekenui School reunion, Easter 2008

Updated May 2020

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