Tim Pauro remembers getting dust-filled lungs while driving in Holden vehicles along what used to be a gravelly Whanganui River Rd.

Born in Wellington, Tim moved to Ranana on the river road, 60km away from Whanganui, with his adoptive parents Pestall and Shona at age 7.

Pestall was named after Tim's great-great-grandfather, Richard Pestall, a Frenchman who was the first miller of the Kawana Mill near Matahiwi.

Pestall was the catalyst for the family's move to live on whānau land, back beside the awa and close to Ranana Marae (Ruakā).

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"When we moved home, Dad really explored his Māori roots. He found his place on the marae, that's what I remember a lot of his time going into," Tim says.

"It was different growing up on the river road then. There was a lot less road traffic and there were more young people up here, so I had friends the same age as me."

Tim's journey to becoming a qualified teacher started with his own schooling at Ranana School, now known as Te Wainui a Rua.

He admits he wasn't the best student academically.

"Kapa haka was a big thing at Ranana School, maybe the biggest. Discipline was big back then too and teachers whacking students was still all good.

"I don't remember ever getting whacked for doing anything wrong in maths or literacy, but I definitely remember getting whipped up for not doing kapa haka properly."

Despite growing up among family, with friends his age among a mixture of farmland and bush, Tim couldn't wait to get away from the river to go exploring.

He didn't see a future in working with stock or labouring ahead of him like many others around him. In fact, he didn't know what he saw for himself.

"A lot of growing up beside the river was based around our tikanga, but I couldn't wait to get out of here to be honest.

"All of the girls here were my cousins, it was away from the shops and away from the rest of the world.

"I don't regret it now, I've learned and done a lot of cool things in my life."

Pestall and Shona Pauro adopted Tim and the whānau moved to Ranana when he was 7. Pestall wanted to explore his Māori roots and spent plenty of time at Ranana Marae (or Ruakā). Photo / Stuart Munro
Pestall and Shona Pauro adopted Tim and the whānau moved to Ranana when he was 7. Pestall wanted to explore his Māori roots and spent plenty of time at Ranana Marae (or Ruakā). Photo / Stuart Munro

When he finished primary school, Tim moved into a hostel in Whanganui while he attended Wanganui Boys' College which became Whanganui City College in 1994.

Again he struggled academically, but it was his first time away from the river and he loved seeing all the new faces, making new friends and being able to play sports.

Tim's life changed when an army recruiter visited, selling the experience with a speech about not needing qualifications, just fitness and the desire to get paid while travelling.

At 17-and-a-half years old, Tim left school to join the recruiters in Waiouru and his first job was working as a rifleman.

"That was a big turning point for me and my view of learning. When I left college, my view of learning was like 'that's over, education's finished for me'," Tim says.

"I realised I could learn in different ways. It surprised me when I did well in the advanced navigation course. There was lots of maths involved which I didn't do well in at school."

After a few years with the army, Tim left wanting more control over what he did every day and went to Auckland where he worked as a barman at Skycity Casino.

He did that for a little over a year before returning home to go possuming and then leaving for a fishing trawler in Greymouth.

He had no future plans, but that was all about to change.

"I'd been fishing down in Greymouth working on the trawler boats, I was only meant to be on a break, but I was living back home," Tim says.

"I was pretty much just a drifter when I bumped into Maggie in Whanganui, at Buzz Bar."

He didn't get to meet them all, but these are Pestall Pauro's grandchildren: Marino, Hinekura, Moana, Tiari and TeRangihaeata Pauro. Not pictured is Tim's son Tomo (Christian). Photo / Stuart Munro
He didn't get to meet them all, but these are Pestall Pauro's grandchildren: Marino, Hinekura, Moana, Tiari and TeRangihaeata Pauro. Not pictured is Tim's son Tomo (Christian). Photo / Stuart Munro

Maggie was born in Upper Hutt.

"I was working at the meatworks, out at Land Meats when I met Tim," Maggie says.

"I got my job there when I was 17, worked there until I was 19 and then fell pregnant with Marino."

Marino is Tim and Maggie's first child together. He was born two months premature and kept the couple on their toes in the early stages of his life.

Marino's premature birth was a blessing in disguise for Pestall, who met his grandson after being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only a few months to live.

Once again Tim found himself back home in Ranana, helping his mum care for his dad, who he said had always wanted lots of grandchildren.

Although Pestall didn't meet them all, he got his wish. Tim and Maggie are now raising not only Marino, but Hinekura, Moana, Tiari and TeRangihaeata at the Ranana homestead.

Tim also has a son Tomo (Christian) from his time spent in the army.

Maggie's pathway in life has been very similar to her husband's.

She attended Birkenhead College in Auckland, Whanganui Girls' College and Whanganui City College, none of which she remembers with any particular fondness.

Studying extramurally wasn't always easy, the couple found that they had differing views on things, but together they graduated from the University of Waikato in December. Photo / Stuart Munro
Studying extramurally wasn't always easy, the couple found that they had differing views on things, but together they graduated from the University of Waikato in December. Photo / Stuart Munro

It was at Manawatū College that she found her feet in education, gaining the confidence to complete online business papers and accepting that she had the smarts for university.

"I always wanted to go to uni, ever since I was at college," Maggie says.

"I always saw myself going in that direction. I didn't know what I would study exactly, but I knew it would be something to do with kids."

While raising her own children, Maggie's passion for education grew and during this time the seeds were planted to start her own journey towards teaching.

"When I grew up, I was always the babysitter. So the more kids that I've had around, the easier I've found it to work with my own," Maggie says.

"While our children were growing up, I was their early childhood teacher in the house next door. They learned everything from me."

During this time, Marino was attending Aberfeldy School about 35km north of Whanganui on the Parapara highway.

It was on a run-of-the-mill day when the Pauros were picking up Marino from school that Tim's journey towards teaching really began.

The bus was usually gone when they arrived, but on this day it was still there. Principal Warren Brown was standing beside it with some teachers also milling about.

Tim wondered what was going on.

"The principal comes up to me and says 'Tim, we've got this student who's up a tree, do you reckon you can go and have a word to him?'

"I wandered over, he was out of earshot and I wasn't used to the school scene then. I had a few choice words for him and he scampered down this tree and got straight on the bus."

Tim and Maggie with Moana, who was the Whanganui region's first born baby in 2007. Photo / File
Tim and Maggie with Moana, who was the Whanganui region's first born baby in 2007. Photo / File

Following the incident, Brown asked Tim if he would spend a few hours each day working with the boy, who had foetal alcohol syndrome and was diagnosed with ADHD.

Tim had never met the boy before that day and was unaware of his issues, which included weak muscles in his hands, rendering him unable to hold a pen or pencil and write.

Tim says he got to work on the muscles in the boy's hands right away.

"He really wanted to write, so we worked on some exercises I knew through martial arts and I got him doing press-ups," Tim says.

"He really took it on board. He went from not being able to do five press-ups, to being able to do 100 in a row within half a year. That was more than I could do."

With the new-found strength in his hands, the student took to using items he could never grasp properly previously and began writing.

"One day he came in with a worksheet he'd done. He'd written his name on it and he was so proud," Tim says.

"Honestly, in any job I've ever done in my life, I've never felt anything like it."

It stirred something in Tim. Despite feeling like university was beyond him, at the urging of Aberfeldy School teacher Seletar Filo, he decided he was going to become a teacher.

When he mentioned the idea to Maggie, not only did she back him, but she mentioned it was something that had been on her mind as well.

They began browsing study options, settling on the University of Waikato because it was the most highly recommended institute among their teaching friends.

"The distance programme was perfect for our lifestyle, because it's so busy. We're both coaching sports, the kids are playing them and have other stuff going on too," Tim says.

"That was the busiest time we've had. We got into a really good routine as a family. We were travelling an hour from here to Aberfeldy every morning, so we'd leave in the dark."

Once the children were at school, Tim and Maggie would focus on their own learning, taking breaks to pick the kids up, deal with sports and then continuing their studies at night.

When they started the bachelor of teaching at age 40 and 35 respectively, tutors believed that Tim and Maggie were the first couple to take it on together in Hamilton.

Like the river road that they live on, the Pauros took the road less travelled on their journey to becoming teachers and there were certainly some bumps along the way.

"When we started, a lot of our cohort were saying we would have it easy and could do our assignments together, but we found that we have differing views on things," Tim says.

"Oh hell no, they didn't know how hard it was. We used to have some massive fights about it. Tim's mum used to put the white flag up," Maggie says.

It didn't take the couple long to find employment after graduation. Maggie will be teaching at Upokongaro School while Tim will take on a role with Whanganui High School. Photo / Supplied
It didn't take the couple long to find employment after graduation. Maggie will be teaching at Upokongaro School while Tim will take on a role with Whanganui High School. Photo / Supplied

Tim faced adversity when his mum Shona died at about the halfway point of the course.

Tim says his mum never went to university, but was a very academic person in the way that she did things.

"She was thorough in her way of thinking. When she started to go downhill with her health, she'd put that aside to help us get our work done.

"It breaks my heart now when I think back now, she probably needed a lot of help during that time, but she'd be like 'no, you go and do your work'."

Maggie says that when Shona passed, it was a kick in the backside for Tim to will him on, reminding him of what his mum sacrificed to help them achieve their dreams.

Maggie faced her own adversity two months later when her nan Doreen Maaka died.

Maggie says her nan was her backbone.

"She was like another mum to me. She'd always tell me 'you know baby, you've got brains' and she'd remind me of that through my studying.

"Also, when she needed to, she'd slap my ears. That was a good thing too."

Despite the struggles they faced raising their children and dealing with death, the Pauros graduated at a ceremony in Hamilton in December 2018.

"It was good to have someone else beside me, going through the same things that I was the whole way," Tim says.

"I wouldn't have made it through without having my wife next to me."

Word of their efforts travelled quickly and it did not take long to get jobs.

When the new school year starts, Maggie will be teaching at Upokongaro School and Tim is taking physical education and one Māori class at Whanganui High School.

Both parents will have their children at their schools. The children who are growing up on the same land their dad grew up on, visiting the same marae beside the awa.

Now they drive a sealed road, passing many tourists along the way, as well as the mill that their French descendant spent countless hours working at.

Pestall is gone, but the work that he did with his whānau and the Māori trust boards is not forgotten. He made his mark the same way Tim and Maggie will now start making theirs.

Their journey towards becoming teachers is complete. And now another one begins.