55 years sounds like a long time doesn’t it!? When we gathered together to celebrate the 100th year of our boarding school none of us had any idea what that actually meant. Even if you didn’t attend a boarding school you may well relate to this weekend. Your comments are welcome.
I have often wondered why people attend school reunions – I decided it is the excuse to renew friendships, an excuse to catch up with old friends, an excuse to be with talented, funny caring women. It is definitely therapeutic. We talked about how education has improved, no teachers throw books at you these days or tell you how stupid you are!! We could all laugh about those experiences decades later, but they were the downside of our schooling under the rule of “Buck” our principal back then. Reunions are memories being relived while creating new memories for the future. Friends of mine attended the St Cuthbert’s 100th celebrations recently, also a very successful event. There must be other schools due to celebrate their centenaries soon and a few have already passed that milestone long ago. One woman told me she had been to a reunion a few years ago and had nothing in common with her school mates, sad really. Others say they would never return to school – I say you are missing out on many fun stories. Many of us were daughters of farming families but not all. Our school days were hard, it wasn’t all bells and whistles by any means. We did get homesick, we did cry, we did get into trouble – it made us who we are today.
An old blazer from the sixties.
Consequently when 18 or so ‘old’ girls ( class of 1960) assembled in Dunedin on a warm autumnal evening it was no surprise that I was greeted with loud and enthusiastic applause and hugs as I arrived at my motel. Immediately I was faced with a sea of faces vaguely familiar, a few more lines, a few more pounds, and a lot of blonde/ gray! 12 of us were staying in one place but this time no one told us off for talking all night. I had no idea of the names immediately but within seconds of exchanging maiden names it was like yesterday. Time vanished as we chatted about school days on that first evening. The noise of chatter reached fever pitch as we headed to the Dunedin Town Hall for the welcome function. More familiar faces, gales of laughter and stories regaled. There were speeches too and wine with canapés but the highlight was reacquainting ourselves with our boarder friends from 55 years ago! And a few “day bugs” as we called them back then! The chatter continued quite late; this time no one gave us detention for talking after lights out. Interestingly enough someone reminded us that for over 3 years we spent 10 weeks a year with our parents and 42 weeks a year with these girls; no wonder we have a close bond!
These two older ‘old’ girls dressed up in uniforms of their day! The Green Velveteen dress hanging up was our Sunday attire.
Saturday morning we had a boarders breakfast… We were not given the same fare as current boarders are fed; the current boarders waited on table while we had Danish pastries, fresh fruit platters, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausages. No flat whites I might add. (ha ha) The table mats were a collage of old school photos and we all spent breakfast trying to identify our school mates. Grace was sung to the tune of Frère Jacques ! The dining room was beautiful with high panelled wood walls, elegant curtains and some very good art work by well-known Otago artists, all very reminiscent of our young lives.
A senior boarder pouring coffee at the Boarders Breakfast.
Myself with some senior girls – have I shrunk? they were all so tall!
Dancer/ actress Terry Mactavish daughter of Shona Mactavish did an impromptu performance on the stage in Constance Hall while we ate our paper bag lunches. In 1958 Shona Mactavish opened a dance studio in Dunedin and in 1963 she set up a performing group, Dunedin Dance Theatre. She also taught us all at Columba.
Constance Hall was named after a boarder Constance Faulks who tragically died around 70 years ago. (1925) – still remembered. There were others from our time too who we hope were smiling on us all from the heavens, they were remembered with reverence and affection.
The normal tour of the school and our old dormitories. Names such as Girton, Solway, Davies, Iona and Braemar, they were the same in essence as in 1960 – fortunately the bathrooms had changed. This filled in the morning along with group photos in front of Bishop Court the charming grey stone building sitting proudly atop Highgate. The history of the property goes back to the first Anglican Bishop of Otago and Southland, Bishop Nevill, who built Bishopscourt which dates from 1871-72 designed by William Mason. Wales and Mason was a Dunedin Architecture firm well into the seventies.
Two of us outside the Principal’s Drawing Room.
Deep inside the Boarding School
Conversations continued as we discovered we had 70 grandchildren between 11 of us – not a bad effort! Many of us were widowed, some has several husbands, ( not all at once!), all of us had lived life well, we were fat, we were thin, we were tall we were short, it mattered not at all. Some drank, some didn’t, some ate meat some didn’t, some were elegant, some were not, it mattered not at all. What mattered was the camaraderie amongst us. Time hadn’t changed our friendships. Some girls lived abroad, some in the north of NZ ( Jaffas!!) and some hadn’t moved more than a few miles from their childhood homes, it mattered not at all. One was a professor, one a farmer, several nurses, a few creatives and so on.
Topics of discussion ranged from politics to religion, sex to grandchildren, ‘trade me dating’ to academia and laughter, so much laughter. No one talked about their surgeries or the effects of age. There was talk about babies being adopted and found and how times have changed towards moral values. It was 18 women sharing their lives with honestly, giving support to those who were fragile, appreciating our differences, celebrating our sameness.
Laughter was the order of the weekend.
Other schools around the world make Columba College’s 100 years look very young, and in fact we are, even by Australian standards. St Caths’ in Sydney was founded in 1856. Taking the top spot as the oldest boarding school in England is the King’s School Canterbury. Created by St. Augustine whilst on his mission to evangelize England, the school is over 1400 years old. (615 AD) In the USA West Nottingham Academy is a college-preparatory boarding and day school located between Baltimore and Philadelphia, and was founded in 1744.
The Nelson Province played an important role in the history of New Zealand education. It was the first Province to initiate free public education, based on a secular school system, which became the model for the first secondary school in New Zealand (Catholic) , The Nelson Public school was founded in 1842 followed in 1844 by the Wakefield School and soon after ‘Bishop’s School’ (Bishop Selwyn’s Anglican School), a Church of England Elementary School was built in Nile Street, Nelson.
St Clair Beach
20 or more of us met at a beach side restaurant; I did feel sorry for the other patrons as the noise levels rose to pretty high levels and much laughter prevailed! Especially when one of the group arrived at dinner with mis-matched shoes! How could she not notice!!!
Sunday morning church at the Dunedin Town Hall with its magnificent pipe organ and the Bag Pipes, a wonderful mix. I have included the highlights for your enjoyment.
The minister in the church service reminded us that back in our day we had no TV, no devices, no computers, no bic pens ( only fountain pens ),no plastic, we had jam sandwiches for lunches, milk in bottles and so forth. He commented that for a school to survive 100 years it had to be succeeding; giving families what they wanted for their daughters, the core values were being taught, Grace and Good Discipline “Gratia et Disciplina Bona” – and moving forward with the times.
I include some of this sermon for your enjoyment. Not the bible bashing approach we endured every Sunday 55 years ago!
“Welcome everyone, it’s wonderful indeed to share this occasion with you and it’s a real privilege to be involved in this way. I am, in fact, standing in for the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, he just couldn’t be here so I have the job of bringing something inspiring to you this morning. I am Richard Dawson and I’m a Presbyterian Minister here in town at the Leith Valley Presbyterian Church, and I’m just thrilled that Columba College has made it to a hundred. I’m a bit of a cricket fan so whenever someone or something gets to a hundred I tend to take an interest and the best thing about Columba getting there is that you are ‘not out,’ which means you can keep going and possible make the double ton by lunchtime.
So we are all gathered here today because of something that has attained a great age and no I’m not talking about myself or indeed even those of you who are older than me. Rather I’m speaking about a school and a vision. And the interesting thing is that even if you’re young you are a part of that ‘old thing’ because it is your school. Now there’s usually only 2 reasons why something gets to be old. The first is that it is so hard and tough that it takes a long time to wear out. The second is that it’s able to renew itself and so to constantly become young even while growing old. This is how living things get old. They renew themselves just as you and I are doing at this very moment.
Did you know that your lungs renew themselves about every 6 weeks and your skin about every 4 weeks? The lining of your stomach renews itself every 3 days and your taste buds about every 10 days! Your blood takes about 4 months to completely replace itself and your finger nails something between 6-10 months. So in order to get old we might say that things have to stay young and the same applies to a school. Columba College is here also because it has constantly renewed itself by changing the way it does things so that it becomes more effective and efficient for the pupils who are under its care. Over the years lots of people considered what it was doing extremely valuable and so they worked to keep it going. And they considered the school valuable because they considered its pupils to be valuable. And when you think about it this makes the original idea to create a school like Columba even more remarkable because, you see, for it to last 100 years means that it was a very good idea to start with.So starting the school was a great idea and it has remained a great idea but remember that the secret to getting old is to remain young and that means that there are also many things about this school which have changed and changed enormously in 100 years. Yes the school is old but so much about the school is actually quite new. Things have changed at this school in the last 50 years, 30 years, 10 years, even this year. etc ”
I’m sure those words apply to many schools throughout our land.
Cilla McQueen poet laureate ( class of 1961) wrote a poem especially for our centennial weekend called “The Gift”.
Cilla recited the poem with such eloquence in her soft raspy voice, and we all related so well to her brilliant words. Thankyou Cilla for sharing the words.
‘When I was at school we walked
two by two in a green crocodile,
With numerous legs the colour of
peanut butter, green mossy hats on top
and on each hat a dove.
I rejoiced in a group of trusty friends
who have lasted all my life.
We found boys pretty fascinating.
Wise teachers instilled in us the art
of listening, inside and out.
I struggled with Pythagoras,
enjoyed the Law of Moments,
glimpsed history’s deep currents
beneath the surface of the present,
learned languages, loved poetry.
In the school library, I first
encountered Janet Frame. One day
walking home along Highgate, reading
‘The Edge of the Alphabet’ (I think)
I collided with a lamp-post.
At the heart of it all is Columba,
a saints faith shining from an open book,
a beacon. Sacred his gift
to the island-dwellers: a simple church,
the habit of prayer,”
Cilla McQueen Bluff 2015
A few of the glamorous sixties boarders, and below the boarding house Bishops Court.
And on the last afternoon they released a white dove –