Otane School's 150th jubilee celebrations in October will be a special occasion for one family whose long association with the school stretches back three generations.

From the late 1930s until the early to mid-1950s, hardly a year passed when there wasn't one of five siblings from the Burne family attending the Central Hawke's Bay school, starting with eldest daughter Betty Spencer (nee Burne), now 86, followed soon after by her brother Barry Burne, 85, sister Raewyn Rumbal (nee Burne), 83, and later her two youngest brothers, Sefton, 77, and Peter, 70.

All still alive today, the siblings started attending the school after their father, Hector, who worked for the old Public Works Department, transferred to Otane from Hastings in 1937 with their mother, Eva.

Eldest sibling Betty remembers lining up each morning to sing God Defend New Zealand before the pupils marched into class at the old school, now the home of the Otane Arts and Crafts Society.


In contrast to dwindling roll numbers at some rural schools today, Betty recalled there were so many pupils back in those days at the four-classroom rural school, which catered for primers right through to Form II, it had to use a makeshift classroom on top of the café in the main street of town.

She remembered writing on slate and - given the school's high proportion of Maori pupils - enjoyed learning poi and Maori stick games, and attending fancy dress dances wearing costumes made from paper.

She had not been long at school when World War II broke out in 1939.

"Times were tough. Being a small community, everybody knew everybody and we had farewells for the soldiers going overseas, and had 'welcome homes' for the ones that were lucky to come back," Betty said.

She said the principal of Otane School back in those days was a Mr Quigley, who she remembered with affection but described as a strict disciplinarian.

"He would teach us our times tables in sing-song. But watch out if you didn't keep in time," Betty said.

The three eldest siblings remember being disciplined by Mr Quigley with the strap for various indiscretions.

Betty said she was caught using a glass-enclosed display of seeds to redirect sunlight onto the back of Mr Quigley's balding head.


"He would keep putting his hands up to the back of his head, and all the kids would twitter away. I did this for quite a while; he must have been getting very hot. He got quite angry," she said.

Raewyn said she received the strap for refusing to drink the free school milk.

"It was always left outside in the heat and it was just yuck. So old Quigley - he must have been watching me - said: 'Raewyn, this is the third time you haven't drunk your milk' and I said: 'Well, I don't like it'. And he said: 'You should be ashamed of yourself and if you're not going to drink it, you can have the strap'. And I said: 'Give me the strap, cos I am not drinking it'."

Barry Burne remembered Mr Quigley spreading the news about the war's end in 1945. "I can remember around every playtime - this must have been around 10.30-11am - Mr Quigley would go over to the school house and he'd walk across the tennis courts. This one particular morning he came running back across yelling: 'The war is over, the war is over'."

Another teacher remembered by all three eldest siblings was a Ms Ingelton, who would ride her bicycle to work every day rain, hail or shine.

The Burne children had to walk only 400m (a quarter-mile) to school, with Betty setting out with her mum's safety warning ringing in her ears.

"Mum always used to say, 'Don't talk to any swaggers', because there were hardly any cars in Otane back in those days, you see."

Although the siblings did not have to endure snow on the short walk from their home near Otane cemetery, they did have to contend with thick frosts during winter, which made them feel sorry for children from St Hilda's Orphanage in Otane, who marched to school every day with no shoes or warm clothing.

"The kids would take an extra piece of bread in their lunch boxes for them [the orphans] if they could," Betty recalled.

After school, Barry remembered riding to swim at Patangata when Otane Creek dried up in the summer months, while Raewyn said there were always jobs to do after school.

"Barry was the only one who learnt to milk the cows. Our mum refused to teach us. She learnt how to milk the cows but she didn't want Betty or I to learn," said Raewyn.

The good news for youngest sibling Peter was that, by the time he started attending Otane School some 16 years after Betty, the family no longer had cows.

But being the last of five siblings at the school meant he had little chance of going unnoticed or getting away with anything,

Peter had fond memories of travelling on the bus to Waipawa every week to attend manual training of woodwork and metalwork classes for the boys, and sewing and cooking classes for the girls.

"You were allowed to buy fish and chips for the bus ride home. It used to cost me two shillings but it was the highlight of the week."

Peter said the school's 150th jubilee was also shaping up as a highlight for the family, with Sefton, the only sibling who does not live in CHB and currently living in Tauranga, planning to return for the festivities.

"I missed the first two [major school reunions] but I won't be missing the third one. It might be my last," said Peter, whose 10-year-old grandson, William Field, is the third generation of the family to attend the school.

Peter said the school had prepared them well and all five siblings had landed their first jobs after school, working at the Otane Post Office, with Peter and Sefton going on to forge three and four-decade careers with the postal service.

Barry said having all the siblings together at the reunion would be special.

"I would say that having all five of us who went to the school all alive and at the reunion, that would be pretty much unheard of," Barry said.

For information and to register to attend the series of events planned for Otane School's 150th jubilee celebrations from October 19-21, visit: sporty.co.nz/otane or call the school on 06 8568009. Registration costs $25 and closes on September 30.