Did girls really need more education?

Members of the Tauranga Branch of the Wanganui College Old Girls get together twice a year.

They’re a feisty bunch, this group of schoolgirl buddies, all but one are glowing golden girls. Wanganui Girls College obviously instilled attitude.

When The Weekend Sun asks them to hold a sign for a simulated class type photo, the protest goes up.

“No! That is not going to happen,” they cry in unison. That’s because we cheekily added an ‘h’ to Wanganui on the sign which reads ‘Whanganui College Old Girls”. The ‘h’ in Whanganui has been  officially embraced by the college itself,  the cartographers have added the ‘h’ to the maps and people swim in and row on, a river called the Whanganui, also with an ‘h’, which flows through a city called Whanganui, also with an ‘h’.

That all adds up to nought for the Tauranga Branch of the Wanganui [without an ‘h’] Girls College Old Girls Association. They won’t be moved on the ‘h’ – there was no ‘h’ when they went to school, that’s the way is it is now and that’s the way it shall remain. End of matte, move on.

 The association didn’t come looking for a political or cultural stoush, so we will oblige, we shall move on.

The fact is the local branch of the Old Girls Association is celebrating 60 years of fellowship this month – 150 college alumni, all living in and around Tauranga nowadays, who subscribe to the association ethos that there is nothing more precious than friendship. It’s the strongest and largest branch of the Wanganui Girls College Old Girls Association in the country. They meet twice a year for wine, food and laughter.

“Tauranga is such an appealing place to live,” says branch president, Morven Denize. “It’s also small enough for groups like this to prosper, unlike the larger more impersonal cities.”

And one of the Tauranga old girls, just one of them, was there on that day in 1959 when the local branch of the association was formed. Six decades later, Ione Murray, now 97, does not tire of it.

“After all these years we are still learning new things about ourselves, or others, and hearing and telling new stories.” Endless lovely stories - and conversations about what they are doing now, where they are working, if they are married and how many kids. “All that sort of thing,” says Ione.

She’s lived in the same house up Greerton Road for 70 years – “We built it with a state advances loan after the war – don’t know why I am still there?” Ione was lucky to get to college. She was brought up in the country and attended a small 18-pupil rural school. “When you reached standard six – you just left school.”

It was a time when the prevalent attitude seemed to be that many girls didn’t need more education anyway.

But Ione decided she did. A friend was about to start college and to get there she would cycle eight kilometers over a rough country road, with a big hill, to a rail head. There, if they were lucky and the goods train with one carriage was on schedule, they would travel another 20 minutes to school.

So, aged 15, after a couple of years of correspondence school, Ione, with the blessing of her folks, joined her friend on those arduous cycle and train trips to Wanganui Girls College – without the ‘h’ as it was in those days.  Ione felt she had made her “debut into society”.

“I just loved it. I loved the learning and meeting up with all these girls. I was a bit overwhelmed but I loved it.”

And many of those friendships endure to this day. As the association motto suggests, friendships are extremely important. “I agree, I really do,” says Ione.

And those friendships forged over just two years of secondary education have served her well, because when the local branch of the Girls College Old Girls Association holds its 60th anniversary celebrations at Tauranga Sport Fishing Club at Sulphur Point Marina on Sunday, August 18 at 2pm, Ione will have 150 good friends to yak to, to share ‘lovely stories’ with.

Perhaps she can tell of that ignominious moment when the headmistress caught Ione trying to pull a gold fish or a dog fish from the pond out the front of the school. Senior pupils weren’t meant to be seen, especially out the front of school and especially dabbling in the fishpond. Ione wasn’t named, but she got a less than favourable mention at next morning’s assembly.   

“It was a big joke for everyone else,” admits Ione. But in 1937 there were protocols and etiquette. “They were very fussy about the length of our gym frocks and the pleats. We had to look really tidy. Doesn’t happen today.”

Wanganui Girls College, as it was in those days, was established in 1891 with just 47 students, 19 of them boarders. It was a time when some people thought it “distasteful” that public money should be spent building a secondary school for girls. In its heyday in the 1960s, baby boomers swelled the Whanganui Girls College roll to over 500. They were more enlightened times. These days the branch makes an annual $400 award to assist a worthy student at the school and also supports the Womens Refuge, Project Hope and the Cambodia Charitable Trust.

For more information on the 60th anniversary of the Tauranga Branch of the Wanganui Girls College Old Girls Association at the Tauranga Sport Fishing Club message Pauline Clancy at: clansgbp@gmail.com or call: 07 548 2110.

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