Old pupil wants schoolhouse kept

By John Cousins

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Times were tough when one of Tauranga's oldest identities, Trevor Blaker, spent nearly six years being educated in Otumoetai Primary School's old schoolhouse.

And in one of life's ironies, it looks like he will outlive the historic schoolhouse on the site where it has sat since 1898.

It is a prospect that disappoints the 96-year-old ex-orchardist who has spent nearly all his life living in and around Tauranga, from the days when it was a small fishing village.

The fate of the schoolhouse now hangs in the balance, with next week's meeting of the school's board of trustees being asked to confirm the October 2012 decision to remove the old building to make room for a new classroom block.

"I would like to see it kept where it is, I made a lot of friends here," Mr Blaker told the Bay of Plenty Times on a trip down memory lane yesterday.

He believed it was important the old classroom was somehow allowed to remain at the school where it belonged.

Mr Blaker's family shifted to a one-room cottage above what is now the Otumoetai Golf Course when he was 8 years old, after his father's poultry farm at Greerton went broke. Hard times were made even harder when the Great Depression hit and his schooling ended when he was 13 - giving way to life as a farm labourer.

He has vivid memories of the sometimes harsh discipline handed out by teachers, with one teacher in particular easily eclipsing the rest. "He lived for his strap. He would hit you on the shoulders or the legs."

He remembered how his sister was off school for three days when her legs were strapped black and blue. On another occasion, Mr Blaker was hoisted up by his collar and heaved out the classroom window.

"He made a fool of me ... my memories of school are not all good," he said.

However, his other teachers, Mrs Taylor and Miss Newhook, made up for the resentment he felt towards the teacher.

"Miss Newhook was very good. She only used the strap on me once - half a dozen across the backside."'

Mr Blaker said his other teachers must have done something right because he graduated from Otumoetai Primary School with a Certificate of Proficiency on December 8, 1930. His years at Otumoetai were marked by extreme hardship in which few families could afford to send their children to school with a packed lunch.

Even shoes were a luxury, and he remembered breaking icy puddles in winter walking to school barefoot.

When the Blakers first arrived in Otumoetai it was a mixture of pastoral farms and orchards and they could count the numbers of families on both hands.

He remembered his father helping dig cars out of the mud on Cameron Rd, when cows grazed the verges.

Mr Blaker enlisted in the 20th New Zealand Infantry Battalion after the outbreak of World War II but was captured by the Germans during the Battle of El Alamein in 1942 and spent the next three years as a prisoner of war. He returned to Tauranga after the war and served his time as a painter and paperhanger before buying the first of three orchards in Otumoetai where he and his wife Icella, who is now deceased, raised three children. He has a great-grandson at Otumoetai Primary School, Josh Kelly.

Mr Blaker said if the school ultimately decided to not keep the old classroom, then he would like to see it shifted to the Historic Village. "I would like to see it kept on the school grounds if possible."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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