Hostel life

I was twelve during 1954, my first full year at Carruth House (the hostel attached to Whangarei Boys High School).  Most boarding schools in those days had an “initiation ceremony”, where the new boys were put through a (usually humiliating) ritual, and I remember that part of ours was a boxing match.  I was quite tall for a twelve year old, and very skinny, and I was matched with a very short boy who was really tough.  He was far better at it than me, but I survived, and he and I later became very good friends.

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We slept in dormitories, each with about 10-20 boys of the same age, and had meals in the hostel dining room in a separate building.  After breakfast, we had to walk only about 100 metres to get to the classrooms.

Most days, when classes were finished, it was sport sport sport!  Cricket, softball, rugby, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, diving, and lifesaving;  everything I needed was right there “in my back yard”.  The playing fields were a couple of hundred metres away, the swimming pool and tennis courts were right next to the hostel and the gymnasium was actually in one of the hostel buildings.

For sporting competitions, the school was divided into three “houses” of about 200 each (“Bledisloe”, “Grey”, and “Hobson”), plus the fourth house being the 100 boarders of “Carruth”.  We Carruth House boys (mostly country boys and Pasifika) were extremely competitive and very proud of our sporting success against odds of two-to-one.

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On Saturdays we spent most of our time playing for sports teams.  Saturday nights we usually had a movie in the gymnasium (I was one of the boys who learnt to run the film projector).  On Sundays we had to go to church (even if we weren’t religious), but most of the rest of the day was free, which usually meant more sport!

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Dale's most famous letter home from boarding school, 1954-ishAlthough Maungaturoto was only about an hour’s drive away, I was still required to write home once a week.  Phone calls were very expensive in those days, so people often wrote letters (emails and mobile phones hadn’t been invented yet).  I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at this weekly chore, as you can see from the rather short letter on the right

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Not everything was idyllic, but I really did enjoy hostel life.  Even the alarums were exciting, like the wet weekend when a large group of us chased something (I haven’t the faintest idea what) through the bushes that edged the school grounds.  We were discovered by the French teacher “Black Jack” Granville, who proceeded to give all thirty or forty of us “the strap”, giving each of us “three of the best” on the hand.  It hurt like hell, but we grudgingly admired this “old man” for his stamina.  (He was probably only in his early fifties, but that seemed very old to our young eyes.)

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Some boys hated boarding school, although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time.  Looking back, though, I realise that every now and then a boy would just disappear, never to be seen by us again.  I presume they were bullied (by teachers, or other boys) and managed to convince their parents they should leave.  The teachers didn’t announce anything;  the boy just wasn’t there anymore.  Sad, eh.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  I loved it.

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