When Alison Milne (née Cooke) was appointed as the first Head Girl of Kuranui College, there was no separate classroom for six formers or prefects and her lessons took place in an army tent erected in the adjacent hospital paddock.
That was 1960, and 60 years ago Milne was one of the school’s 450 foundation students, having made the move to the new South Wairarapa college for her final school year from St Matthew’s Collegiate School for Girls.
She can’t quite remember why she made the move, but she is very sure there was no application process for the role of prefect. “I know I didn’t apply for Head Girl, and sadly I can’t ask Sam Meads (Kuranui’s founding Principal who passed away in 1987) why I was appointed,” explained Milne.
“I think my parents sent me to Kuranui because they thought here’s a brand-new school, and it would be easier to bike to it rather than take the bus up to Masterton.”
After leaving school Milne went into local broadcasting, then retrained as a pharmacy technician following a move to Auckland where she raised her family. Her father had been the pharmacist in Greytown. Living now in Titarangi, Milne is a renowned weaver specialising in recycled textiles, and many of her works have been displayed in galleries and arts centres.
Last week, 113 foundation students and their partners celebrated the college’s 60th birthday. The celebrations were organised by Susan Harper (née Duffy), Ngaire Flynn and Jocelyn Gray (née Cadwallader), and the former Kuranui students enjoyed a Woodshed BBQ, dinner at the Pukemanu Tavern in Martinborough, and a morning tea at the Offering in Greytown.
They were also welcomed by current Principal, Simon Fuller, whose wife Laura, and mother-in-law (and South End School Principal) Clare Crawford, are both Kuranui alumni.
Also in attendance was Kuranui’s first Dux, Jennifer Campbell (née Hume), having transferred in 1960 from Solway College. She became the second Head Girl and was the first Kuranui College student to gain a degree, studying Mathematics at Victoria University, Wellington.
Campbell went on to become a teacher and at 75 years young continues to enjoy a love of mathematics as a personal tutor (she is also a contributor to the Southland Times). In between her teaching roles, she has worked in the mental health sector supporting families, and has a passion for the environment, setting up the Environment Centre in her adopted home of Invercargill.
“What’s struck me talking to my fellow students over these last few days, is the full lives that people have led and the amazing things they have achieved since leaving school.
“Boys were expected to go into farming or the trades, becoming labourers, builders and electricians. Girls became nurses, dental technicians, primary school teachers and secretaries. We’ve travelled the world and started businesses and Kuranui has played a major part in our lives.
“If it hadn’t been for the teachers, I wouldn’t have gone on to University. We were real pioneers,” added Campbell.
The former students also took part in a tree planting ceremony to mark the anniversary. Ngaire Flynn, foundation teacher Clive Gibbs and foundation third former Tom McCaughan ensured that a cherry tree gifted by the foundation students was dug in and staked securely, so future generations of students can enjoy sitting underneath its shade.