How a school suspension led to money laundering

Updated: Jun 23, 2019

When young Donald Stockwell started at Hawera High in 1960, he was not an infrequent visitor to the office of principal Mr G.A.Thompson - not always to receive praise for his academic achievements.

Centennial Committee Chairman Donald Stockwell today - and back in 1960 (inset)

Indeed, the Third Form student’s propensity to argue the point with his male teachers meant that, by the end of his first year, he bore the unenviable record of a caning tally that numbered in the low 50s!

One November day that year, about three weeks before the end of the school, Donald received an ultimatum from Mr Thompson as the latter finished with his cane: He was suspended from school for the rest of the year and he would only be welcomed back in Form Four if he improved his attitude.

Coincidentally, as Donald trudged homeward, he remembered that the Hawera A&P (Agricultural and Pastoral) show was starting that weekend. Rather than return home to burden his parents with the unhappy news, he decided to have a look around the show.

With pockets a few pennies short of the entrance fee, Donald made his entry via the “back door” - clambering over the fence from the Hawera Hospital grounds and scampering through the large gully that separated the properties.

Many high school students attended the show to help their farming parents show stock or trade displays, so it was not uncommon for teenagers to freely roam the showgrounds. As empty pockets made it hard work to fill in the day after checking out the free exhibits, when Donald came across the caretaker, he helped out with odd jobs for a couple of hours. Such was his diligence that he was offered a job to pick up all the paper and other debris after the show was over.

For the next two weeks, Donald would leave home in his school uniform, change into mufti at King Edward Park and then labour at cleaning up the showgrounds for his new boss. At the end of the day, he would reverse the process, never letting on to his parents that anything was out of the normal.

Donald enjoyed the routine but at the end of the fortnight, he encountered an unexpected problem when he was handed his wages of £22 pound - a total of more than $2000 in today’s currency! Recognising that he could not bank this money or buy anything significant without alerting his parents or siblings to his truant activities, Donald’s real punishment was to fritter away this small fortune on innocuous purchases.

After a few more challenging years at Hawera High, Donald failed to live down to his school reputation as a ‘ne’er-do-well’ by joining the Farmers Co-op where he became stock agent, then went on to buy and run the South Road Butchery in Hawera with wife Judy for 18 years until 1994 before eventually joining the South Taranaki Council to help small businesses south of the mountain.

With Judy’s support and while holding down a full-time job, the former lacklustre student also earned a university degree in Economic Development and a Master of Philosophy in Economic Development. “It would’ve been so much easier if I’d applied myself when I was young and not waited until I was a 50-year-old second-chance student,” admits Donald, who now - as punishment for his sins as a student - is chairman of the Hawera High School Centennial Committee.

Former principal G.A.Thompson must be spinning in his grave.

Donald Stockwell attended Hawera Technical High School - as it was known then - from 1960-63. He will be joined at the Hawera High reunion by his siblings: Ian, a former NZ Trade commissioner in India, from Wellington; Bruce, who spent much of his career in the UK as an international banker for NZ. from Auckland; and younger sister Mairi, who is a partner in a crayfishing business in Kingston, South Australia.

Click here to register to attend the Hawera High Centennial Reunion this Labour Weekend, October 25-27, 2019


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