Reminisces of Mr Russell Dawson
Head Teacher for 27 Years

I was walking across the tennis court of the Weedons Primary School in January 1961 engrossed with my ideas for plans for the future of the school when there was a sudden encounter with other people. They were at the school for the 90th Jubilee celebrations and I was there as the new Headteacher.

Our paths crossed several times over the years and now with the 125th Jubilee close at hand I would like to note some of my random reminisces from 27 years at Weedons School:


Removal of low growing branches because of the danger to children's eyes. Developing an environment to include shrubberies and borders.

Imagine the playing field surrounded by wire fences. The main plantation on the Manion boundary was developed early. The Deodar Cedars that are now such an asset had to be struggled for against opposition, I had to find anonymous donors for both the trees and the trickle irrigation that served them and personally act as Guarantor before approval was granted.

Obtaining timber and temporary edging to separate driveway shingle and grass and construct a shingle pathway around the rear of the school to toilets and shelter shed.

The original playground was so uneven that a pupil lying down was not visible.

Removed Wellingtonia trees at the gate - there was a lot of resistance from residents.

During the building of the new school, removing of trees and levelling of the playground the Weedons Domain was used as the playground.


Construction of playground apparatus.

The first apparatus was a horizontal ladder. The metal framed 'monkey bar' and the horizontal ladder were purchased in the days of pound for pound subsidies. An account was sent to the Education Board for the items. The reimbursement was used to pay for the materials and the remainder, minus a donation to the constructor, was banked because the labour (at an inflated rate) had been doubled.

Another source of interest was the adventure playground. This was begun with contributions by local people and Mrs Dawson's late brother, Mr Kevin Cavill. Supplementary contributions were made by the Selwyn Plantation Board, the Post and Telegraph Department and the Local Power Board. Perhaps the most notable contribution came with the donation to the school of the transmission equipment - ruined by protesters - by the Deep Freeze Authorities. This necessitated two years of correspondence through Christchurch, Manila and the U.S. Science Foundation. Interest was forthcoming from Japan Teachers College, Sydney - Australia, Detroit - Michigan and all other New Zealand Education Boards.


An asset to the pool was the construction of the solar heating unit as was the provision of a cover. The very first filter for the pool was donated by Mrs Dawson's late brother. The second was obtained free of charge from the Education Board by dubious measurements and calculations.

There is that facial expression - a first length of the swimming pool.


The purchase of new equipment is always a milestone for a school. The FIRST duplicator, sewing machine, film strip projector, graded reading books, number apparatus. The purchase of these in the early years lose nothing by comparison with the purchase of a photo-copier, typewriter, computer, imported visual aids and programmes.

Buying the telescope by express permission of the District Senior Inspector was the culmination of a period of intense interest in astronomy by a random reference to the "Seven Sisters."

The interest snowballed and teacher and pupils alike were absorbed in identifying new celestial objects. The first glimpses of the Moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn caused facial expressions similar to those on the Inter-Island ferry, the opening of the kiln and as I said before the first length of the swimming pool.


Efforts to obtain a new school were very protracted. The Chairman of the Building Committee was able to put his fingers though the weatherboards which was not surprising as this school was built in 1871. The teachers table rocked when pupils walked past and the Staff-room was the old school-house laundry.

The chimneys were found to be unsafe. They were not removed until after a severe earthquake and then when they were being removed one collapsed and demolished the woodshed.


Main problems arose from those who thought election to school Committees gave them immediate expertise in education and administration, or on the other hand problems arose from attempts at behaviour modification which was rightly the responsibility of respective parents.

I am very pleased to notice an increased emphasis in the community on instruction in formal grammar. Weedons senior children were proficient in this curriculum area. So much so that some staff members were unable to mark their excercises or indeed correct their spelling.


With regard to the Environmental Competitions the most prestigious was the National Award 'Young Conservators of the Year.' This was closely followed by the Lion's Club Competition for all schools, primary and secondary in the northern half of the South Island. Four entries, two firsts, two seconds. The McFarlane Shield, 8 or 9 times, Paparua County Award, several times.

The principal benefit, apart from the knowledge gained was in the development of attitudes, the ability to communicate and the ability to begin a task and see it through to a conclusion.

Somewhere in the storeroom is the Victory Shield. This along with a cup was competed for by the Waimakariri Group of Schools at the Templeton Domain. These Athletic Sports are well remembered for the honest endeavour and sportsmanship of the participants.

Rugby and netball, cricket, softball, cross-country, athletics, Physical Education, gymnastics, Canterbury Championships, even a New Zealand Championship, just a mention, but each deserves more in terms of effort and achievement.

Every effort was made to ensure that because of the excellence of achievement in Horticultural pursuits, the school was not seen to excel in one curriculum area.

On request a display was mounted for the inaugral flight of Air New Zealand to Japan. The display was to be in Christchurch International Airport for two weeks but remained for six weeks by popular demand. It was then shifted to Merivale Mall and then to Paparua County Library.

This display resulted in a visit to the school by a Japanese film crew and then followed exposure in Japan to a viewing audience of 16,000,000.

Displays were also requested by the Education Board for setting up in the Christchurch office. These resulted in letters from overseas educationalists.


When I arrived at Weedons the main fund-raising ventures were one Christmas Raffle, an occasional Hare Drive and Saturday Night card evenings. Bernie and I used to toss a coin and the one who lost HAD to go to the card evening.

The annual budget was about 60 pounds.

After some time because of a cake stall Bernie's Red Cross Group had held, I asked that a Bring and Buy Auction sale be introduced. This function quadrupled the budget and has since grown to be an institution which has raised many thousands of dollars.


Real pleasure was given to refugees and to our adopted elderly at Hornby House and Churchill Courts.

The winning of the cup for the best Red Cross Group in North Canterbury by Mrs Dawson and her Red Cross Group was a very proud achievement. This group later disassociated itself from Red Cross because of interference in local administration by the co-ordinator, prompted by local influence.


The expression on pupils faces entering Wellington Harbour at dawn - a never to be forgotten experience. The beginning of many school trips - West Coast, Mt Cook, Waitaki Hydro and Lake Ohau, Mt Somers coal mine, Temuka Pottery, Arthur's Pass, Lyttleton Harbour - each place had its special and varied highlights.

There were two trips to Lyttleton to obtain bricks for a pottery kiln and the excitement and anticipation on opening the kiln after a firing was breathtaking.


I inherited an annual concert and failed miserably to dispose of it. We had some wonderful concerts in spite of my resistance.

I well remember one sweltering December evening feeding ice-cubes to participants in a puppet theatre to prevent them from fainting.

Several 8mm movie films were made - how much easier it would have been with a video camera.


My very first at Weedons - venue Motukarara Domain - cars arrive - R.N.Z.A.F - Blue Corner- Local Residents - Red Corner

Everyone looks at the Headteacher (not Principal) as if to say "Be funny keep me entertained!!!!"


These days it is more Committee, sorry Board orientated. At least that's the way I tried to develop it. Some of my colleagues went to their picnics as guests.


The use of the mower to mow beneath the shelter belt, to mow tracks on the rugby field for running lanes, to form a mowed footpath to Maddisons Road and McClellands Road for convenience of pedestrians, to keep the local cemetery tidy. Result - suspicious query about the amount of petrol used. A Morrison Olympic reel mower was awarded to Weedons School for the quality of the lawn - the only one presented in the Canterbury Education Board District.


Convincing the administrators that the school needed a tool-kit other than the Principal's for routine maintenance and that if one is prepared to use spray materials one really deserves adequate protective equipment.


For a wife who fed anyone who set foot on the property, painters, specialist teachers, Inspectors, Plumbers,

Psychologists, Health Officials: who assisted families in sickness and bereavement: who operated a Red Cross Youth Group (later Pupil Care Group) that ranked as on of the best in North Canterbury: who cleaned the school for decades to prevent the usual disagreements between committee and employee that were common in may areas: who very reluctantly agreed to serve as Chairperson of the Committee in default of local residents.

It is a pleasure to remember some of the Chairpersons and Committee members who gave devoted service to the school and moral support to the staff. Some of them negated the Chinese saying "A Committee is an animal with four back legs."

It was a pleasure for Bernie and me to return to Weedons on the occasion of the district farewell.

It is exceedingly unwise to mention specific deserving personalities as I did on that occasion, because of the risk of omission. Now that I have retired and am no longer accountable to anyone (BLISS) I should like, along with the Ryans, Colemans, Curraghs etc that I thanked then, to remedy three notable omissions, Tony Clarke, Betty Sorenson, committee and Maureen Snelling, staff.

A reference to two long-serving and supportive staff members, Patricia Rittey - well liked by parents and pupils who came to Weedons School as Miss Carr and left finally ten years later as Mrs Rittie and was regarded as almost a family member.

Ian Tappenden, an enthusiastic male who participated very proficiently in all areas of school activity. Some of our meaningful policy decisions were made in a more convivial atmosphere than the school classroom.

Finally I should like to end as I did all of my school newsletters with a pertinent observation (to the consternation of some). This one is attributed to Oscar Wilde and is paraphrased.

"On returning from the U.S.A. Oscar was

said to have been impressed, or not,

by the wide open spaces.

Surrounded by teeth."