Hawera High School - born amid controversy

The development of Hawera High School during the past century has reflected the success of Hawera and its surrounding districts. Changes at the school reflected the changes in the social and economic times of the past 100 years. With its origins in a primary school established in 1875, the school grew into a district high school by 1901 while demand for a technical school grew in the next few years.

Hawera High School was born amid controversy which was expressed both locally and in the Parliament of the day. For many people, a high school was regarded as an irrelevancy. They thought that educating their children might cause them to become unsuitable for taking up the occupations on the land and in town. Meanwhile, a small number of others continued to send their children away to boarding schools that suited their pockets or ambitions, although for most Maori, this was not part of their expectations.

Some people saw a high school education as a requirement for later vocational success for their children, regarding it as vital to their future and their town. They called for the establishment of a Technical High School to prepare their children for national examinations and to give them understandings of commercial and technical practice.

180 students on day one - up from 34 two years earlier


In 1919, Hawera High School opened at the Technical School building in Princes Street and two years later moved to a new site in Camberwell Road. The school commenced with 180 students, a substantial advance on the 34 students who attended the District High School Secondary Department just two years before.

The new school drew on a wide country district with many pupils arriving by trains from Eltham and Patea. An initial staff of 11 taught a range of subjects grouped into Courses: Literary, Commercial, Domestic Science, Engineering and Agriculture. The Literary and Commercial Courses led to the national examinations and were followed by 80 per cent of the students. Agriculture never seemed a popular course. It must be borne in mind that until the 1940s, large numbers of pupils left school at standard six and went directly into farm or domestic work.

By the 1930s, Hawera High outperformed other secondary schools 

The need to prove academic success was no doubt in the mind of both the staff and students. Scholarships and examination successes were soon taken and confirmed the community's confidence in their school. During the 1930s, about 38 per cent of the pupils had attended the school for more than two years.

This was a much larger proportion than other secondary schools and three times that of most Technical Schools. This reveals something of the esteem in which secondary schooling was held in Hawera. A student from the time says "All seven of us went to the Hawera High School - how he (my father) managed it, I shall never know." Members of that family went on to gain considerable academic success.

The Hawera High swimming pool was built in the mid-1950s, with students rostered out of class, a few at a time, to assist with the digging the hole for the pool and the construction work around the site.

The building which today houses the canteen, sports office and caretaker's facilities was a large workshop complex with woodwork, and apprentice plumbing, motor mechanic and electrical training spaces.

The school armoury - 450 rifles and three light machine guns!


The space between the pool and this building was a 25-yard (22.86-metre) outdoor rifle range for use by students under supervision during the Military Cadet programmes that ran in all state secondary schools. This was solely for use by boys. The range faced west to east with the students lying on a mound in line with the main entry door to the present canteen. Eight students at a time were on the mound and they fired .22 rifles down the range in groupings of five rounds at a time.


The targets were set against a sand-filled butt with a tall concrete block wall behind it. The concrete block wall had angled ends, to reduce any chance of ricochets. All male students were taught firearms use and safety unless their parents specifically requested that they be excused on religious grounds or physical disability. If this occurred, students were exempted from all cadet drill activities and were drafted into the school brass band, pipe band or the medical corp. As a consequence of that action, Hawera Technical High School was well known for the expertise of its musicians.

The firearms were supplied by the NZ Army and were stored in the Armoury Building which was a small wooden shed at the back of what is now Dixon Block. Approximately 450 rifles and three light machine guns were housed in racks in this building. The ammunition was under staff lock and key elsewhere, unknown to the students!

Of the rifles, 80 dated back to the Boer War and were single shot, top loading carbines. 280 were Lee Enfield 303 bolt action decommissioned from World War Two. None of these could be fired, so were used only for drill practice. The remaining rifles were a mixture of .22 and .303 calibre target rifles for use on the school and town range. Colin Cowie (2014).

The area between the swimming pool and canteen is now again known as 'The Range', following landscaping work undertaken by the Board of Trustees in 2014. The Range is now a well-utilised area by students during break times. The teachers of the school have enriched the life of the community and prominent local people have taken part in the life of the school, such as the contribution to school music made by HCA Fox from 1929 to 1945.

Enrolments grew strongly after universal schooling started in the 1940s


As universal secondary schooling was achieved in the 1940s, the school roll and its curriculum changed. At the end of the 1930s the school catered for about 400 pupils but many factors contributed to a roll increase of nearly three times by 1970, making the school one of the largest of its kind at that time.


As secondary schools were established in Patea and Opunake, the school's district altered and, with all pupils now spending three or more years in the school, both its role and relationship with the community was greatly changed from catering for a fortunate 180 pupils in 1919.

No kidding! Education is for adults too


Adult education has long been a feature of the school. As far back as 1909, the Technical School provided both day and evening classes for adult students. In 1930 evening classes were re-established and have become a feature of the High School's role in the community. In more recent times, the Taranaki Polytechnic has developed on some areas of the provision of adult education that originated at Hawera High School. The changing South Taranaki community continued to be reflected by changes at Hawera High School during the fourth quarter of its first century. Arthur Fryer (1994)

High Hawera School celebrates 100 years of co-educational secondary school in Hawera during Labour weekend, 25-27 October 2019, 

We welcome past and present students, staff and supporters of the school to register for this celebration. Click the button above to purchase a registration ticket for if you want to attend paid events during the weekend.

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