Local Shane McManaway (left), Mayor John Booth and contractor Dean O’Brien with the sign marking the site where Matarawa School once stood, or stood nearby. PHOTO/ELISA VORSTER



Ineffective teaching, unenthusiastic students and a school building burnt to the ground … no wonder Matarawa School no longer exists.

Perhaps it is no wonder that the sign erected last week by Carterton District Council marking the historical site of the school is actually about 100 metres from where the school actually stood when it was closed in 1937.

Dig a little deeper, though, and some fascinating facts emerge and that’s sparked conversations reigniting the history of the school.

And that’s the point of the sign, Carterton Mayor John Mr Booth said.

“It’s about recognising these sites and identifying them so people see them and it triggers a question, and then out comes the history.”

A 90-page online document about the school includes committee minutes and material from log books, and contains insights into school life at the time.

Inspectors’ reports spell out problems towards the end of the school’s life as student numbers dwindled.

There are also references to raging storms causing damage to buildings and the unfortunate timing when the school inspector visited on the day “the brightest senior boy” was absent.

One inspection report is particularly bleak:

“Due apparently partly to lack of cooperation among parents, pupils and teacher and partly to ineffective teaching the working of this school is disappointing.

“One feels that the boys are not working to capacity… the quality of the work is weak.

“Pupils in school work quietly but without enthusiasm.

“The buildings and grounds are tidy but not very attractive.”

Local resident Kevin Thompson’s mother was originally a pupil at the school but was one of many who moved to Greytown School after a wooden bridge was built between Matarawa and Greytown.

Farmer Shane McManaway believed both the bridge and the school were constructed using timber from the nearby Gallon’s timber mill.

Mr McManaway’s family’s presence in Matarawa dates back around 70 years, and he recalls hearing stories of a gatekeeper controlling access over the bridge.

In later years, after the school had closed, former pupils were transported over the bridge in a canvas-covered farm truck to Greytown School until the 1950s, when the school bus service started.

The Matarawa school building itself no longer exists because Mr Thompson’s grandmother, Ruby Brazendale, accidentally burnt it down when trying to heat the hall.

His uncle Barry Brazendale hoped people wouldn’t think badly of her but added his mother was teased about the fire frequently by the family.

“The country women’s institute used it to meet at the school because it was a big open room.

“My mother went in before the meeting and lit the fire, but there were birds nesting around the chimney and the whole thing caught fire.”

Sadly, there was no reason to rebuild the structure at the time as the school had already closed.

Mr Brazendale himself didn’t attend the school as it had already closed in 1938 when he began at Greytown school.

His sister, Nola, was a pupil there and he remembered the school being a very tall structure which, looked as though it were two-storeys high.

“But I was just a kid – maybe it wasn’t as high as I thought it was at the time.”

He also recalled the army camping in the school grounds during World War II.

The nearby schoolmaster’s house is still standing and is owned by the Thompson and Brazendale families.

Some of the foundations for the school’s outbuildings still exist on the grounds, and a play area shelter is being used as a shed at the back of the property.

Mr Booth said with people today not far removed from those who attended and taught at the school, it was important to reignite conversations while memories were relatively recent.

The council is now considering recognising similar historic sites in the area.