This photo, which appeared in the Times-Age on November 17, 1971, shows Standard Four pupils of Hadlow pondering a map of New Zealand the day after meeting the Prime Minister. Andrina Goodwin points at the map, while John Murphy looks on in the front row, fifth from left. PHOTO/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

 

HAYLEY GASTMEIER

hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz

 

In 1971, cigarette advertising was banned on television in the US, bell-bottomed trousers were in fashion, Apollo 14 landed on the Moon — and a Masterton class took a stand that unexpectedly propelled them into the national spotlight.

On Saturday, Hadlow Preparatory School’s Standard Four class of 1971 will reunite to remember their quest that was very radical for the time, and sparked controversy among newspaper letter writers in Wairarapa.

Forty-seven years ago, the 20-something pupils of the Masterton classroom wrote to local newspaper editors suggesting the name of New Zealand be changed to its te reo Maori name of Aotearoa.

This caught the attention of a current affairs broadcasting team, which arranged the pupils to discuss the subject with Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake on national television during the class’s routine visit to Parliament.

Driving the reunion of the former Hadlow schoolroom is John Murphy, who last week, together with his old classmate Andrina Goodwin, met with the Times-Age to chat about the class they so fondly remembered.

Both say that schooling year was particularly influential, in part because in 1971 Hadlow went from being a boys only school to being integrated, but it was mainly memorable because of their “outstanding” teacher, Conal Atkins, who was in his early 20s at the time.

“In your school life you might get one or two teachers that you remember,” Mr Murphy said.

He said Mr Atkins gave the class the licence to challenge authority — a notion which had inspired and stuck with him ever since.

“It was just amazing, when you’re a kid and someone tells you you can do anything you believe you can.”

Hadlow principal Michael Mercer, with ex-pupils, Andrina Goodwin and John Murphy, who along with their 1971 classmates rallied to have the name of New Zealand changed to Aotearoa. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Hadlow principal Michael Mercer, with ex-pupils, Andrina Goodwin and John Murphy, who along with their 1971 classmates rallied to have the name of New Zealand changed to Aotearoa. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Ms Goodwin added that it was “a special year”, and in conversation with other former pupils since, it became apparent that many of them felt that way.

“That’s why we’ve got 17 of these students making the effort to come [today], because it was memorable, memorable in many different ways.”

Ms Goodwin was 10 and Mr Murphy was 11 when their class wrote to the editors of the Wairarapa Times-Age and The Dominion rallying for a country name change.

Ms Goodwin said she had scant memories of studying maths and English that year, but many of social studies lessons and lively class discussions.

“We all got so behind the fact that we wanted to change the name,” she said.

“We all did believe that it was the right thing to do at the time because of what we’d learnt in class prior.”

Ms Goodwin remembers the letters to the editors that came flooding in, many of which “were dreadful” and of a racist tone.

“One particular lady wrote, ‘juveniles with no sense of history’ and then she rabbited on about why it shouldn’t be Aotearoa.”

An article published on the front page of the Times-Age on November 17, 1971, reported that: “The class felt strongly over the fact that New Zealand was a Dutch name, yet the country’s native people are Maori. They feel New Zealanders owe Maoris a great deal, and think the name change would be an honour for the Maori”.

The article explains how the ‘Gallery’ tv show learned of the class’s trip to Parliament, and surprised the pupils by pulling a few of them from the tour and into the television studio to discuss the name change idea with the Prime Minister.

The article states: “Sir Keith was non-committal about the pupil’s idea. He asked a few questions but gave no opinions”.

Following the interview, pupil Sally Fisher said: “Well, we didn’t win, but we didn’t lose either”.

The exact detail of how the class came up with the idea to rally for a name change remains a mystery to the two old classmates — they can’t quite remember if it was student driven or sparked by the teacher — but they ventured to find out over the weekend when they reconnected with their former teacher, Mr Atkins.

The Hadlow Standard Four class of 1971 was particularly significant to Mr Atkins, who now lives in Nelson.

It was the very first class he taught as a fully qualified teacher.

The children in the class “were a bit ahead of their time”, he explained.

“I think they had some sort of social conscience, they wouldn’t have known it then but there were bright kids in there.”

He, too, was foggy on the genesis of the name change idea but he suspects he saw an opportunity to have the children practise “writing with a more meaningful context”.

“Lots of kids had to practise how to write letters in those days, and nothing ever happened to those letters, so I thought this was an ideal way of writing a letter and actually having an impact with it.”

Mr Atkins thinks he may have “subtly” planted the seed, which the children then embraced and ran with.

He said he was proud of the class’s efforts.

“It was incredible, it escalated from one thing to the next.”