The First School Picnic
MEMORIES OF THE FIRST KRISTIN SCHOOL PICNIC
Lyn Williams was one of the foundation staff and parents of Kristin School, from its early beginnings in Campbells Bay to establishment of the Albany campus. Lynn visited school this year on the day of our Summer Carnival, which inspired her to share her memories of the first summer picnic held in Albany in 1974.
Kristin opened, against all the odds, in 1973, in the old Campbells Bay Health Camp. It had not been easy to get to that point. When Kristin took it over the place was a shambles, as it had not been used for some time. The inside of the buildings was filthy and the rooms were full of old mattresses and rubbish and the blocked gutters and downpipes dripped. The grounds could have been mistaken for an unused tip as they were full of over grown bushes, brambles and well-established ‘cutty grass’ - toitoi, rusting corrugated iron and broken glass, tangled wire and old containers, but this did not stop our excitement as we, parents of newly enrolled students, got together for weekend-long, hard-working working bees to clear the site and clean the buildings so that the school could open there.
Day after day we scrubbed and painted, carried away rubbish to the real tip in Rosedale Road and hacked at the tangled masses of kapok vines, prickly gorse and thorny leg-catching tendrils of blackberry bushes.
Doing all this hard, manual work, side by side, we built strong family friendships, many of which have lasted through all these years to the present day, as all of us were united in the excitement of helping the new school to open on time for our children. We were all committed to making the school a success story even though many people - perhaps most of the Auckland community - were sceptical about its chances of survival. Private schools were not well known or popular in New Zealand at the time and there was a strong feeling in the community that the local school should be ‘good enough for anyone’ and there was no need for anything else. There was also a large number of people who were actively against the idea of private schools opening in New Zealand. The freshly painted, clean and tidy school opened with some areas of the grounds ‘out of bounds’ because they still had dangerous rubbish in them like barbed wire and broken glass. OSH would never have let us open, had they been in action at that time!
Every weekend, the foundation parents were involved in clearing more of the grounds for use and in fundraising activities - jumble sales, white elephant stalls, cake stalls, at local markets - and in keeping the school in good order as demanded by our tenancy agreement and our own keenness to have a beautiful and safe setting for our children. This built a tremendous spirit of camaraderie and goodwill and it was truly like one big extended family. Everyone knew everyone else and social status didn’t matter. We had a common purpose. The school flourished and we knew that we could not stay in rented accommodation at Campbells Bay for ever. We were proving ourselves capable of educating children and giving them individual attention, and the steering committee worked tirelessly to find a new site that could be our very own.
In those days Albany was seen as ‘out in the backblocks’ - too far from the built-up areas of the North Shore and people said that no one would be willing to take their children ‘that far’ to school. But that is where land was found. Land big enough for growth.
Excitement was high on the day it was announced that the steering committee had succeeded in purchasing the land and invited us all to have a picnic on it to celebrate. None of us could really believe that this had come to fruition.
Luckily the day was fine and sunny as we parked at the edge of the property and walked past the old, green painted farmhouse, between the ancient trees that had been planted by their forebears early in the 20th century - a coral kaka-beak tree, and a massive tulip tree amongst them.
Carrying our picnic bags and rugs and with some people bumping pushchairs over the rough ground, or piggybacking small children, we made our way about a quarter of the way down the property between bramble and gorse bushes and the old gnarled fruit trees, to find a place to sit and eat our shared picnics.
Soon the children of all the families were playing hide-and-seek behind the bushes, having impromptu races, climbing the trees, and making up imaginative games, until the adults were ready for their ‘official tour’. The orchard still had fruiting peach, apple and pear trees down most of its length. We could see the neglect and the lichen growing on the old trees but were soon making plans to teach the children how to look after the trees and to raise money by selling the fruit in season. Spirits and our confidence were high. We were sure we could clear the scrub and plant and make the site a beautiful one that later on others would envy.
We scrambled through gorse and blackberry bushes right down the property to Lucas Creek, excited to think that one day it might be possible to teach canoeing in our own backyard and to clear some of the orchard and bulldoze to make playing fields. We stayed until darkness fell and went home scratched and sore from the brambles and gorse but thrilled with the site and the potential it offered.
“Fancy the steering committee being able to find a site as good as that,” we said, as we drove home exhausted. “How wonderful it is that there were people willing to underwrite the purchase.”
“How courageous they are to do that without any surety of the school’s survival - past the knowledge that we had succeeded in building a student base and an ethic that could carry a school forward at Campbells Bay.” Those of us who had not had to do any of that went home humbled and grateful that there had been people who could, and would do that for our children and the many who would follow.
We were united in our appreciation of the foresight and trust shown by these visionary people and very determined to work together to ensure that the school would succeed. The picnic had consolidated our commitment and fired our determination. Kristin was more than a school to all of us. The picnic united us even more than the work at Campbells Bay had done. We had become a family with the same pioneering purpose and we could not wait to get started on building our permanent home.
FOUNDATION PARENT & STAFF MEMBER