A little more than 60 years ago, more than 500 female students left Rotorua High School for the last time.

The following school year, Rotorua High School was no more, replaced by Rotorua Boys' High School on its existing site, and by Rotorua Girls' High School at a new location.

By 1958, the year before the split, the Rotorua High School roll had reached about 1047 students, made up of 506 boys and 541 girls.

When in 1959 the two schools opened, Boys' High had a roll of 582 under the principalship of William (Bill) Harwood.

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Girls' High opened under the principalship of Nina Hogan with a roll of between 400 and 450. More than half were Year 9 students.

Among them was Annette Joyce, who went on to become the school's principal in 1997, holding the position for 16 years.

"When we started there was no seal on the ground, the rain drained into the middle of the courtyard," Joyce said.

"I dreamed of us being a school that had a gym and all my years there we fundraised to get a gym. It was built the year after I left."

Construction of Rotorua Girls' High School's hall. Photo / Supplied
Construction of Rotorua Girls' High School's hall. Photo / Supplied

Joyce said there was a split between the younger girls and those who started their education at the co-educational school.

"They weren't even told until the last day of the year they wouldn't be going back. Everyone knew there was this new school being built, but no one knew much about it."

Joyce said the students who could, left education, and those who couldn't, went to Girls' High but "hated it", revolting by wearing the old high school uniform.

"The girls had been used to being in class with the boys so their relationships continued informally but one of the rules was you could not speak to a boy on the street in your uniform, you had to go home and get dressed."

In Joyce's last two years as a prefect, one of her jobs was to walk up and down Old Taupo Rd giving out detentions to girls who talked to boys or didn't have the right uniform.

Joyce said the school's founding principal Nina Hogan was "quite strident and quite bossy" but amazing.

"Her heart was in the right place. She wanted to see young women get a good education that would fit them for life."

The badge Joyce wore as a prefect in the early 1960s is the same design 2019 head girl Atera Apirana wears today.

As Joyce talks about what the school was like 60 years ago, Atera is astounded at how different things were.

"Back in the days it was more strict, now I feel we get to express ourselves way more.

"We get offered so much more now."

Soon Atera is going to her 11th country, most of that travel has been through kapa haka or with the school. This week she's been at Te Matatini in Wellington.

A ban on talking with the boys is long gone, and a relationship between the schools is actively encouraged, newest principal Sarah Davis says.

"The two schools are already working alongside each other but I hope to do more work with each other in the not too distant future."

Rotorua Boys' High School officially marks its opening as 1914 when it was originally established as the Rotorua District High School.

This year's head boy Te Ao Taumatangi Billing said the school carried a lot of history.

"As soon as I walk through that door I feel everything that's been through this school, all those names on the board of honour, the previous head boys.

"It wasn't just a boys' school. Being part of its legacy is something special for me I hope to honour the school in some way and be up on that wall."

In a book written by Kevin Lyall on the history of Rotorua Boys' High School, published in 2003, he wrote: "It was with a sense of both anticipation and immense sadness that the school prepared to farewell the girls at the end of 1958."

"Anticipation in the sense that they were about to set off on their own separate journey … sadness at the thought of them leaving behind the comfortable and familiar surroundings of their co-education school."

Lyall wrote the re-opening for the new Boys' High in 1959 was "nominal" as the surroundings and staff were mostly the same.

"Only the absence of the girls suggested that any great change had actually taken place."

Before the separation the boys wrote a leaving song for the girls.

Fergus Cumming, who still lives in Rotorua, was form four (year 10) when the school split.

"There was quite a lot of excitement on one hand but quite a lot of sadness a tradition was being broken.

"All the trade students created a steel coffin … we placed all the things to do with the school in there and it was welded shut.

"Then we moved on with things."


Principals over the years
Rotorua District High School
John Warn (1914–1915)
Francis Wood (1915–1919)
Thomas Tanner (1916-1918) (While Wood was away serving in World War I)
William Lewins (1920–1926)
George Barber (1926)

Rotorua High and Grammar School
Aby Ryder (1927–1931)
William (Bill) Harwood (1932–1959)

Rotorua Boys' High School
William (Bill) Harwood (1959)
Neville Thornton (1960–1962)
Ted Hamill (1963–1979)
Geoffrey Cramond (1980–1991)
Chris Grinter (1991 – present)

Rotorua Girls' High School
Nina Hogan (1959–1967)
Sheila Peacocke (1967–1984)
Alison Thomson (1985–1997)
Annette Joyce (1997–2013)
Ally Gibbons (2013–2018)
Sarah Davis (2019-present)

When the news came the girls were leaving, the boys penned this song to farewell them.

A Farewell to the Girls
Half a month, half a month,
Half a month, 'tis true,
All the girls in the School
Will bid us adieu.
Farewell the good times!
Less fun for you and me.
We shed a tear (?) as
They bid us adieu.

When the girls are gone,
Will there be a boy dismayed?
Not many, though we know,
Someone has blundered
In letting them go,
We will miss them so
To us it's a blow,
When all the girls in the School
Will bid us adieu.

Boys to the right of the,
Boys to the left of them
Boys all around them.
Shouting and cheering -
Seeing them away,
Wishing them good day.
They tarry not to play.
"Farewell," they must say -
They bid us adieu

When can their glory fade?
All the friends they made!
We all know it's true.
Honour the impression they made!
Honour that happy brigade
As they bid us adieu.