Every time I see the overgrown empty section between Kiwi, Kitchener and Talbot streets, I feel sad. Our beloved Kiwi St School once proudly stood here, the heart of our close-knit community.
We lived across the road so it was our playground, where we spent many happy hours with friends. Many of our parents worked at the Eastown Railway Workshops, and everyone was aunty, uncle, nanny, koro or Mr and Mrs X. Amazing teachers, wonderful friends, beautiful facilities, immaculate grounds, great times.
Ten children from my whanau attended the school and my younger sister Moana qualified and taught there until the school closed in 2003. Part of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Tūpoho used our old school for a while. After the Ministry of Education turned down their application to move the whole kura there, they moved back to Cross St.
Unattended buildings attract unwanted attention, and so after a spate of vandalism our beautiful school hall with rimu floors, updated office blocks, classrooms, dental clinic and separate library buildings were all demolished.
With no school to visit, I was scared it would be forgotten by tomorrow's generation. So I suggested my Mum and Dad (Putiputi and Joseph) donate some of their Kiwi St School mementos to the museum. I carefully wrote down their histories.
The school wanted to build a swimming pool and the Home and School Committee (the working arm of the Parent Teachers Association) needed fundraising ideas. Mum suggested a school kapa haka group that could perform for payment. They loved the idea despite having no tutor, no kapa haka group, no uniform and no money.
Mum offered her services and became the inaugural kapa haka tutor and children eagerly joined. People were resourceful back in the day.
Aunty Julie Hoeta (nee Wilks) lived across the road from us and helped Mum make 13 girls' and 15 boys' uniforms from pink, white and black crepe paper. The children wore them proudly and Mum wore her own Rātana Mōrehu Group uniform when fundraising.
Eventually, the school decided the Whanganui East Baths were a more practical option. The funds raised were used instead to purchase trees for the school grounds and a glasshouse to help teach horticulture. But kapa haka became a large part of school life. The group continued and gained numbers.
When the curtains in the school hall were replaced in 1975, Mr Bill Carran, the principal, thought to recycle the curtains as new piupiu. Mum, Aunty Julie and Mum's Singer treadle machine sewed the curtains into skirts, and then cut the cloth to look like piupiu strands. I remember sitting with other girls, winding brown paper around large knitting needles to form tubes. The tubes were then threaded onto the black cloth piupiu strands and stapled into place to make patterns.
The white backing of the curtains were also recycled and sewn into pari, tāpeka and tīpare to wear with the new piupiu. Then Mr Carran, and possibly Mr Street (art teacher), screen-printed a design onto each piece. The design featured the school emblem, a kiwi, and Mum added ferns to embrace it, one of her favourite tāniko designs. The kōwhaiwhai strip, radiating out from this central piece, was copied from some material that Mum had bought in a material factory in Marton.
In 1976, a well-known and respected kuia, Mrs Bessie Poumua, had mokopuna at the school. She was good friends with Mum and offered to teach her how to make traditional harakeke piupiu for the school. Nanny Bessie made an example with Mum. They sourced harakeke (NZ flax) from Matahiwi, inspecting each rau (leaf) before cutting for transport. Nanny Bessie designed an easy pattern for the piupiu, as Mum was a beginner.
She showed Mum how to strip, size the whenu (strands), mark the pattern and reveal the muka fibre to create the pattern. There are 160 whenu per piupiu. Then Mum drove Nanny Bessie to Aramoho, to get paru, the traditional black dye, before going up towards the Gentle Annie Road to collect the tutu plant so she could dye the piupiu.
Once dried and plaited together, Mum called a hui of ladies whom she thought might be interested in learning this skill so they could complete the full set of piupiu for the school. As no one else could dedicate themselves to this large task, Nanny Bessie suggested the school send her pattern to Whakarewarewa at Rotorua for them to make. The quote for 30 piupiu was $600. The school fundraised and Mum successfully petitioned Māori Affairs for a grant of $300 towards the project.
When the piupiu order went to Whakarewarewa, the tapestry pari and tīpare were started. The screen-printed design was extended by adding poutama to both sides. This design encourages us to set goals and strive for greater heights. Mum put the designs on to graph paper for people to follow, and donated all the tapestry, wool, black cloth and cotton, plus her labour and time. Aunty Julie assisted her again, and they were joined by Mrs Bonner (nee Tauri). I remember this as my first time doing tapestry work and I was excited to complete some tīpare. Approximately three months later, at least 32 tīpare and 15 pari had been completed, backed and ribbons added for shoulder straps (on pari) or ties (on tīpare).
My Mother Putiputi remained the Kiwi St School kapa haka tutor until the end of 1982-1983.
* Āwhina Twomey is Kaitiaki Taonga Māori and Kaiwhakaako Māori at Whanganui Regional Museum.