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Boarding up the memories

By Gerald Ford

I was greatly saddened to hear that the Wairarapa College hostel building has been deemed earthquake unsafe and is now doomed to demolition.

Many Midweek readers will have fond memories of that building. It included accommodation for hostel staff and sometimes senior students, but more importantly, the common room and the games room.

I attended there from 1987 to 1991, under the leadership of the late Nelson Bradley and his wife Jenny.

Every night at 6.30pm the student body would gather in that common room for roll call. Tea was from 5 to 5.30 and people would begin to enter from 6pm.

Music videos played almost non-stop, and all the late 80s anthems were there from Giv(ing) Love a Bad Name to The Final Countdown to those that stagnated at the top of the charts for weeks – like Brian Adams and Sinead O’Connor. (Only bogans were into Metallica then, till the Sandman Entered and they went mainstream, so Guns ’n Roses was about as heavy as it got.)

It was better to turn up early. Seniors sat at the back and if you were a junior who turned up late you got squashed out around the corner where the house master and mistress in charge of roll call couldn’t see you.

This meant your overlords were forced to order you to move inwards or even stand and move to fit into a new space, a space you were not able to squeeze into before. Such is the logic of bureaucracy.

When the names were read out, boys whose voices hadn’t broken yet did their best to say “Sir” without too much of a squeak.

Friday and Saturday nights we were entertained with rented movies like Top Gun and Cocktail, where Tom Cruise taught us impressionable boys how important alcohol consumption, motorbikes and one-liners were to attracting women.

Not sure what the girls learned, except how to fall in love with the worst song (You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling) in an otherwise epic soundtrack.

The importance of common areas to a co-educational boarding school does not need to be explained.

The common room and the games room with its pool and table tennis table were backdrops to countless conflicts, crushes, triumphs and catastrophes – if those bricks could talk.

They can’t, of course, but for the first time I find myself understanding why some people fight to preserve historic buildings.

None of us knows the future and our present is often shaky, so it is good to be able to see and touch something solid that stretches back through decades and generations – surviving bricks-and-mortar evidence of the past.

Rest in peace, College House building. Rest in Peace.


  1. Like so many memories , Landsdown Primary , College House (Borstal) Purnell , sadly they disappear in all but our memories .

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