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Century of splash

The school pool is a symbol of the summer term.

While Douglas Park School [DPS] has a brand new roof, a refurbished administration block and is winning awards for modern sustainability, its school pool has just turned 100 years old and is still going strong.

The pool was officially opened on November 11, 1923, at what was then Masterton West School. Pupils lined the poolside in celebration of their new facility. Over a century, the pool has had thousands of children pass through its waters, giving them basic water skills and the joy of swimming in a group.

Last Friday, all pupils at DPS walked out to the pool on the first day of summer, to sing happy birthday and inspect where they will be swimming in February.

“Every day, for six or seven weeks, every DPS kid gets to go into the water, from their first day in Year 1,” principal Gareth Sinton said. “It’s mainly about water confidence.”

Masterton resident Harry Shackleton [89], was a pupil at the school during WW2 and remembers swimming there.

“It lightened the day a bit during the war,” he said. “After the lesson, we were given a bit of free time and generally acted the goat. Swimming togs were a bit different in the 1940s too – there were no bikinis!”

Shackleton took extra swimming lessons at the ‘Ladies Pool’, now the sunken garden opposite New World supermarket.

“A canvas strap was put around our waist and the teachers would hold a rope attached to us – if we didn’t do what we were told, the rope was lowered, we would go under and come up spluttering. But it did the job, I suppose.”

Diana Roseingrave started at West School in 1950.

“Once we could float, we learnt the dog paddle. But we weren’t allowed to jump in, it was all very formal. Of course, there was no sunscreen used by the children, as back then, everyone wanted to get a suntan,” she said.

“I remember the walk down to the pool from the classroom and the dressing rooms – my mother would have insisted I wore a bathing cap. The water was cold but we were used to it, because no pools were heated back then.”

Kerryn Osborne [nee Ryan], who started at West School in 1953, lived behind the school in Kumar Crescent and said her father Kerry Ryan paid for a key to the pool, to use at weekends.

“Half the kids from our street would end up over there,” Osborne said. “There used to be a diving board at one end.

“One summer, the boys let slip there was a hole in the wall between the boys’ and girls’ changing rooms and the caretaker had to quickly fix it up.”

Today’s DPS caretaker, known to everyone as ‘Mr Blue’, said the pool had been painted a couple of times since he started the job more than 25 years ago.

“I knew nothing about pools – we were not professional pool people, but it’s been pretty easy to maintain,” he said.

The pool is a bit bigger than others at Wairarapa schools. Over the decades, the tin fence has been replaced with wire netting, the changing rooms were “done up” in the 1960s and there have been sand filter and pump replacements.

“Some kids say it’s freezing cold and others say it’s lovely. We don’t get a lot of 30 degree days in a row anymore,” Mr Blue said.

A “shallow end” had been added to the pool at some point, he said.

A group of this year’s senior students said they had happy memories of summer terms in the pool.

Mila-Kay Paku [10]: “It’s been here for so long. Everyone can use it and learn in it and it’s nice in the summer heat. I like diving for the sticks and rings on the bottom of the pool.”

Willow Matthews [11]: “It is freezing cold. The first time I went in, I was terrified, but the teachers taught us how to hold our breath underwater. I think that 100 years ago, they wouldn’t have been allowed to do bombs, probably just boring dives or pencil jumps.”

Carter Heberley [10]: “We get to go in the deep end in about Year 3. It’s very cold. We do challenges and rate our bombs and bellyflops. I did a bellyflop and got a 10/10, but I was pretty red afterwards. It’s better swimming with your mates, than without them.”

AJ Setu [11]: “I like the bomb competitions and the free swimming is the best part.”

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