Malcolm Matthews, who farms on the Awanui Straight, has as much interest as downstream from Kaitaia in the flood protection work that the Northland Regional Council has begun in the town, but work just upstream from the Church Rd bridge, behind Te Ahu, has prompted fond memories from his childhood.

Work under way so far includes the building of a rock wall where Kaitaia Primary School children once had their swimming lessons. Malcolm, who began his time there in the mid-1930s, clearly remembered those days, changing in the bushes (girls and boys had separate lessons) before leaping into the river, which at that point was around seven or eight feet deep and 25 yards across.

There was even a diving board on the western (showgrounds) side.

Lessons were always supervised by teachers, but one youngster, John Wright (who later served Kaitaia for many years as a chemist) had a close call.


"He was swept away. The teacher jumped in, fully-clothed, and got to him just as he was going under for the third time," he said.

One of the Michie boys also made a name for himself by setting out to swim across the river, getting three-quarters of the way to the opposite bank before deciding he wasn't going to make it, turning around and swimming back.

Malcolm's son Kevin said it was a shame to see Kaitaia losing part of its history, although the flood protection work was necessary. That history went back much further than the town, with a "very ancient" river bed visible, as exposed peat and timber, in the vicinity of the swimming hole.