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May 1, 2014

Ashley School and Mt Grey Downs School 150th Jubilee

April. It's over. Hopefully it has taken its super-sized showers with it. Not that they haven't given the month a lot of character...

The kind of character that destroyed the rail bridge across the Ashley River in a 1953 flood.  These photos were part of a larger display mounted by the Kowhai Archives for the Ashley School and Mt Grey Downs School 150th anniversary held over Easter. With the heavy rain the day before, and the closing of the road bridge between Rangiora and Ashley  

the Jubilee Committee was left wondering just how many people were going to turn up. 

We'd been planning this event since late 2012, reading how the 125th anniversary held in January 1989 was a hot, dry and windy occasion and now it looked like roads would be impassable, with slips and storm water up and down the South Island.
We needn't have worried, people came all the same.  

My school friend Michelle, started twice from her home in Mataura before being able to pass high-tide flooding, and others made it from Mossburn and Te Anau as well as Taupo in the North Island. I missed Patsy; she couldn't get through the slips on the road from Akaroa. 

An unexpected pleasure for me was meeting so many people with links to the Skudder House. Above are three beautiful Vallance sisters who remember their grandmother Frances,
and the Skudder family well.

It was also moving to meet for the first time as an adult, my infant teacher Mrs Blick, who I had only the faintest visual memory of, but her loving, gentle guidance has remained with me always. 

There she is in the middle, now Jill Tinkler. I also remember fondly Basil Shead in dark blue, who was headmaster in the early 1970s. It was very special to have Russell Lear, seated in black, at the Jubilee. He was sole charge master at Ashley in the late fifties and apparently forgot to come to the 125th anniversary. Glad you remembered this one Russell! And Craig Mullan, that's him seated at left, well he's the current principal, not one of my teachers but Kitty's - glad to call him a friend. 

My particular interest in this project was the history of the two schools and the surrounding area. Along with Terry Green from the Kowhai Archives 

I worked on history displays of photos, and school days mementoes as well as revising an earlier edition of the two schools' history, with technical help from others on the committee.  One of the highlights of the weekend was walking into the small room where books, old school work and albums were displayed with a reading table, to find so many of my old school mates listening to Cindy reading their 1965 words back to them.

Mt Grey Downs is no longer easy to find and the area has been tagged Ashley Downs by real estate agents. The school building has gone but I had never appreciated until my recent research that many of my school fellows at Ashley had transferred here after the amalgamation of the two schools in 1963. At least three people around the table above are in the photo below.

This photo, taken on Mt Grey Downs' last day, is my favourite of all the photos that I have worked with over the past months. The sole charge Master at the time was Mr Rogers.  Many of the remaining past pupils apparently maintain a connection and meet more regularly than every 25 years!  Mt Grey Downs School opened in 1869 rather than 1864 and like Ashley School had more than one site, but for boundary reasons rather than risk of flooding!
Which brings me back to the weather. Saturday - the day for ceremony and photographs dawned bright and sunny. 

There was a cake to be cut - by brother and sister, Betty and Doug from Mt Grey Downs School:

a tree to be planted, by Mina of Mt Grey Downs, Alan who was Ashley School's oldest representative at 97, and Zoe, the newest entrant at Ashley School:

and photos to be taken... 

before the evening dinner and non-stop reminiscing.

On Easter Sunday there was a church service at the Church of St Simon and St Jude. Michelle, who was a consummate pianist even at primary school played for the hymns.

A walk around the Ashley village followed

and a wreath was laid at the Cenotaph during an early Anzac ceremony.

The festivities closed with an amiable picnic lunch gathering and some hilarious games. I discovered that I have a knack for hurling gumboots but after a heated battle, I didn't manage to beat the reigning egg and spoon champion Terry. He did  have to fight Kitty for that title though!

My impression of this anniversary event is of a deep-rooted, strong farming community, where the small school experience wrought deep bonds amongst children who attended together. The stories that flowed and were uncovered deserve another blog post to themselves.

And what better way to finish the weekend than to receive news that the bridge was open. A joyful rippled passed through lunch as people read their texted bridge status notifications.

Photos of my own are supplemented by Fran Gardner's photos.
Thanks also to the Kowhai Archives for the Ashley River display
and G Harris for the Last Day at Mt Grey Downs School photo.


Cro Magnon said...

How wonderful. I never get to go to my old school reunions..... too far away.

libby said...

What a wonderful lovely to have such a connection and strength of feeling in a community.

Steve said...

Sounds like it was a fabulous, life affirming reunion... a day to be savoured.

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

What a great event you helped to put on! I am a little envious that I didn't have that small school experience too.

Joanne Noragon said...

So much work and planning, and a lovely reunion in spite of your obstacles.

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Cro Magnon: I'd never been to a school reunion before. I definitely hope to be around for the next one!

libby: Some of these people I hadn't seen since we dispersed at secondary school.

Steve: Maybe even more life-affirming for those who had a miserable time at school but still decided to come to the reunion. I am particularly grateful to them for coming.

Mrs C. Would I have been rich and famous if I had gone to a bigger school? My educational path has certainly defined me and I can't say I regret any of it.

Joanne Noragon: People are still ringing up to say how much they enjoyed it or to buy the history booklet. Very rewarding.

John Gray said...

Those group photos made me tear up.......lovely

Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Oh you sentimental thing John. Just imagine, if you had grown up in Ashley you'd have been one of my school mates.

Drew said...

Hey e up thine ,as done well.


Lady Mondegreen's Secret Garden said...

Drew: Thank you Andy,the Committee held its wrap-up final meeting last night!