My Experience at Hukarere

Hukarere is a Maori Girls College (or high school) in Napier, New Zealand. When I attended, it was my first time being away from home. I was 13 years old. It had been my choice to attend. My mom had been recently remarried and we had moved into my step-dad-to-be's house. She came to my room to talk to me, and said that I might want to think about attending Hukarere Maori Girls College. I had never heard of it. She said it was in Napier, a few hours drive north. I was surprised and accused her of trying to get rid of me. She said that wasn't the case. She said her mom had offered her the opportunity when she was my age, but she didn't go. She just wanted to give me the option. I said I'd think about it.

Shortly after, I heard that the guy I had a crush on was going to attend Te Aute, which is Hukarere's brother school. Any functions we had would be with them. That pretty much finalized my decision. I told my mom I wanted to go. So we went to visit Hukarere, got all my uniforms, (See "School Uniform") , and got my hair cut short which was one of their requirements. I was all excited about starting. Then I bumped into the guy I had the crush on, and told him I was going to Hukarere. He told me that he wasn't going to Te Aute after all. I was disappointed, but by then I was so keen about going to Hukarere that I didn't mind anyway.

Te Aute Maori Boys' College,
Pukehou, New Zealand

I should explain that during the period from 1970 to 1992, the girls attending Hukarere walked to Napier Girls’ High to attend school, since during that period, Hukarere was only a boarding hostel, not an actual school. I attended Hukarere from 1981-1985, (with a break in the middle) so I was there when we had to walk to and from Napier Girls High School. We had to walk up and down hills in all kinds of weather to get there. The purpose of attending Hukarere, is to learn about Maori culture, Maori history, to practice and perform our cultural dancing and singing, and to grow spiritually.

I remember I had just said goodbye to my family when they dropped me off to the hostel on my first day, and I was feeling somewhat homesick, when a girl said to me rudely: "What are you staring at?" I guess I'd been absent-mindedly watching her unpack. (She was new too). I was so hurt and surprised. I just walked away.

I noticed a lot of girls had long hair. I had thought we had to have short hair, since it was in the rule book, or guide. I found out that it wasn't a requirement after all. I was really down about that because I liked having my hair long, or at least medium length, and I couldn't believe I'd cut it unnecessarily.

It was tough being away from the comforts of home. We all had the same bedding - 2 sheets, 2 blankets and one thin bedspread and one pillow. So I was always cold. I don't think there was any heating, and there was no air conditioning. (You don't really need that in New Zealand anyway). We did all our own washing, by hand, in a small old room with concrete basins. We had chapel every Sunday. (It was an Anglican church service, although you didn't need to be Anglican to attend the school, or Maori for that matter). We ate breakfast and dinner together in the dining room, and we had a packed lunch to take to school, which was usually sandwiches and a piece of fruit. So I was always hungry.

From what I remember, we were only allowed to make one phone call a week, from a little room. We were woken up every morning by a loud bell that was rung manually at 6am. It was pretty loud, and sometimes, the person ringing the bell would go to each dorm and ring it, which was 10 times louder. We'd get ready for school, eat breakfast together, then line up outside, and walk to school in 2 lines.

Grace was spoken before every meal, in Maori. (See "Maori Grace") We always said it together, or sometimes someone would be asked to say it. It was during grace one morning that one of the girls had an epileptic fit. I didn't know what was happening because I had never seen anyone have one before. Her name was Lisa. She was a senior when I was a junior. She was laying on the floor on her back, kind of shaking. Luckily a few of the girls knew what to do, so they took care of her. After a minute or so she was okay.

I cannot remember the name of the lady who was head matron in my first year, (1981), but the girls called her "the dragon lady." (Thanks to Alice Peachey, I just found out her name was Kuini Ellison). I remember she was quite strict. One of the seniors, Ariana Tipene, would give her a hard time. When we were lining up for a uniform inspection and to pick up our lunch before school, Ms. Ellison would say "toes on the line" and one day Ariana took off her shoe and literally stuck her toe on the line. Needless to say, she got sent to the office. Ms. Ellison would walk us to school like we were five year olds, making sure we didn't do anything wrong and that we were in our lines. I know she only was trying to do her best for our school to have a good reputation.

46 Napier Terrace, Napier

When I attended, the hostel was located at 46 Napier Terrace, Napier, which was very nicely located on a hill. (With the most beautiful chapel too, by the way, filled with beautiful Maori tapestry and wood carvings).

This photo is taken on the Napier Terrace side of the hostel, near the street. We normally weren't supposed to be up there, but I wanted a photo of our school sign and motto, "Kia U Ki Te Pai." (Cleave to that which is good). See "Motto" for a more in-depth description. That's my friend "Tania Joyce" posing in the photo.

Being that the hostel was over 100 years old, it had plenty of ghost stories. And there were certain areas that were definitely creepy, like down by the laundry room, especially at night.

One story, is about the "green nun." Going from the main part of the hostel to the hall/performance area where we used to practice our Maori culture (dancing and singing), you walk down some stairs and go through the basement, before going up some stairs to get to the hall. In that basement are a couple of old small locked rooms. One has a small window and when you look through it, you can see some pipes on the ceiling and not much else.

I never found out what that room had been used for in the past, but the story goes that there was an unhappy girl who was a nun, (we heard there used to be nuns in the old days at Hukarere), and she hung herself in there. It still send chills down my spine thinking about it today. I remember going to peer through that window one day, trying not to be afraid, and saying a prayer for her. To this day, I still don't know for sure if it was a true story or not. And, why "green" nun? I'm not sure.

Sometimes, while sleeping, I'd be awakened by what sounded like all of the dining room chairs being pulled out at the same time. Before we sat down to eat, grace would be said, (in Maori) and then we'd all sit down, so all the chairs would be pulled out from the table, and that was the sound I'd hear - all the chairs being pulled out at the same time. One night, my friend heard it also. She said that she heard it often too. So we decided to sneak down to the dining room, which was downstairs, and we opened the door. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, so we went back up to our dorm. We still heard the noise after that, but figured there wasn't much sense in going to check it out.

One day one of the girls started yelling and screaming that she could see a ghost in our dorm. She was extremely hysterical, and she didn't appear to be acting or playing. The next day I found out she had left Hukarere, and I never saw her again.

At some point, I noticed what I thought was a pimple forming on my waist. It was sore. I tried squeezing it, but nothing would come out. It just got bigger. Eventually I found out it was a boil. Then I kept getting them. I had one on my leg, which hurt when I walked. I even had two at the same time, and that was really painful. I remember my dad came to visit me, I must have been crying to him on the phone. He's a great dad, always there when I need him. Finally, I had some antibiotics, and that got rid of them once and for all. But it was a very uncomfortable thing to have, and compounded my feelings of wanting to go home.

After spending the first 2 terms of my 3rd form year at Hukarere (less than one year) I pleaded to my Mom to let me come home to go to college. Being picked on by the senior girls, and being away from home was too hard for me. I was really homesick. We only got to go home a few times a year, and I'd have to take a bus half-way and then wait for the connecting bus in a seedy part of town.

To my great joy, my mom decided I could return home to go to college. I was very relieved. There were 2 colleges, and I wanted to go to the one where I knew the guy I still had a crush on was going, but she made me go to a different one, that had a much better reputation. So for the rest of that school year, and one more full year, I attended Wairarapa College, in Masterton, which is a co-ed school. My sister started her first year at Hukarere.

The transition from school to school was easy. But before long, I found my grades dropping, and decided going to a co-ed school wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Since my sister was now attending Hukarere, and seemed to be enjoying it, and I would now be a senior, with less chance of being picked on, I decided I wanted to return to Hukarere for my 5th form year. At the end of 5th form we sit an exam, School Certificate, which is equivalent to High School Certificate.

I wanted to study hard so that I would pass the exam, and I asked my mom if I could return to Hukarere to complete my studies. I felt like I would be more focused there. She said it was up to my dad, since he'd be paying. So I discussed it with my dad, and explained that I really wanted to "pass my School C" and I didn't think I would if I stayed at Wairarapa College. (Not because it's not a good school, just that I wouldn't be focused). My dad asked if that was what I really wanted, and I told him it was. So he said I could return to Hukarere.

My sister, Tina, and I being dropped off to Hukarere. From left to right; Tina, Mom & Wimpy, Me - Kerri

(In the background you can see part of the chapel on the left, and part of the hostel on the right)

Once again, I was very happy to be changing schools. And I really did work hard at school. I passed my School C, barely, and moved up to the 6th form. It was so much easier being a senior, and having my sister around. The girls all seemed nice, and most of my old friends were still there too.

Mrs. Pragnell, or "Ms. P" for short

The head matron was now Mrs. Pragnell, and she seemed friendly and a lot more easy going. She'd let us walk to school by ourselves, trusting us to behave.

Another thing that changed was smoking. When I was in the 3rd form, there was no smoking allowed. But you could smell smoke in the girls bathroom - they'd sneak in there to smoke anyway. But when I returned, now in the 5th form, they had "smokers." The bell would ring, and someone would call out "smokers," and all the smokers would go outside to the specified area, and smoke. That was a surprise to me. I didn't smoke anyway.

A few of the girls outside for their "smokers" break

Some things hadn't changed. We still had chapel every Sunday, and kapa haka (cultural dancing and singing) at least once a week, which I loved. And, we were allowed to watch at least one show a week - music show, like a "Top 10" songs type of show. And now, we also had a movie night, where we were allowed to watch a rental movie (sometimes two) in the conference room, and lay down on the floor with a blanket.

Having more freedom was great. Our new head matron allowed us to visit downtown occasionally, I think it was about once every other weekend. We could walk down the hill, do a little shopping, visit the beach, and return. We usually went in pairs or small groups. One particular day, Roly (that's her nickname) had a large plastic bottle of rum and coke. I hadn't really drunk much alcohol before, and I thought it tasted pretty good. So I was drinking it down, as was Roly's younger sister, Joanne. Before I knew it, Joanne was throwing up in the public bathroom down by the beach, and I wasn't feeling so good myself. Everything was spinning. I started running, in what felt like slow motion, to catch up to Roly and tell her that Joanne was sick. Then I found myself in the middle of the main street, downtown Napier, sitting on a bench and throwing up on the ground, as people walked by. Then I found some of the other girls, and my sister, and said I couldn't go back to Hukarere just yet. I laid down in the park for a little while, then we had to walk back up the hill.

Here are pictures of Napier's Marine Parade, the area where we were hanging out and I got sick from drinking rum and coke. Napier's Marine Parade is also famous for the Pania-of-the-reef statue. Several students from Hukarere Girls College were photographed as models for the statue, and eventually, Mei Irihapiti Robin (now Mei Whaitiri), was selected. The statue was originally unveiled on June 10, 1954.

The next day must have been a Monday. I just know that I told the matron I was sick. I spent the day in bed, with a hangover. It's only recently that I've been able to drink rum and coke again. I only drink on rare occasions now anyway, but for at least 20 years I couldn't drink rum and coke - I'd start to feel ill.

My 6th form year was good. I studied hard and really wanted to pass the year end exam, which is University Entrance. I eagerly awaited my results over the Christmas break, only to find out I had missed by 7 points. I returned to school in January, and told one of the girls at Napier Girls High. I think her name was Josephine Kahaki. She told me that she'd heard of girls just missing out, but they'd been allowed to move up to the 7th form anyway. Which meant they still didn't have their "U.E." (University Entrance) but could be in the 7th form, rather than repeating the 6th form again. I thought maybe she was just saying that to make me feel better. It sounded too good to be true. But with my hopes up, I went into the principal's office to ask her if I could be in the 7th form, since I'd only missed out by 7 points. She said that she'd need to talk to my teachers first.

That made me happy, because it meant there was a chance. When I returned to see the principal, she told me that all my teachers spoke highly of me, and recommended that I be moved up to the 7th form. I was so happy. I wouldn't have to repeat all that work I'd done the previous year, but at the end of the 7th form, I would need to sit my "University Entrance" again. (Which I did, and passed barely).
Here's a picture of the 7th form at Napier Girls' High School, 1985. I was the only girl in the 7th from from Hukarere that year. I'm on the bottom left.

I went bouncing back from school that day, and went into Mrs. Pragnell's office at Hukarere to tell her the good news, that I would be in the 7th form. She was happy for me, as was everyone. I was the only 7th former at Hukarere that year. The next day I was called into Mrs. Pragnell's office, and was told I would also be a prefect, which meant I'd be in charge of the girls, along with the other 7 prefects that had already been chosen. I considered it a real honor.

Hukarere prefects, 1985. I'm on the far right. The head prefect is Helen in the middle right, deputy head prefect is Missy, middle left.

Now that I was a prefect, and with the new matron, we were allowed a night out on the town, as a small group. I think a few of the seniors were also invited. We'd be driven to a night club in our van, and be able to hang out for a couple of hours to dance. I had sooo much fun. But we were under age, and when the police started coming in occasionally, a few of the girls got in trouble. I think that was the end of our nights out, but I really enjoyed them while they lasted.

Here's a picture of me, Tania Joyce and Melanie Smallman, out at a night-club. Tania didn't really smoke, she just borrowed someone's cigarette for the photo.

Being in the 7th form meant I got to attend the 7th form ball, at Napier Girls High School. I found a dress that I liked for the event. I didn't end up having too much fun, because I didn't really know the girls in the 7th form very well. The guys were from Napier Boys High and I didn't know any of them at all. But it was still something to remember.

I was so proud to be going to the 7th form ball. I got to go down the special stairs that we weren't normally allowed to use, and the matrons took my photo. You can see the pictures of all the "old girls" from prior years, going all the way up the stairs. I didn't get to see those photos too often.

At Hukarere, there were 4 different "houses," which were different groups that would compete against each other, mostly for sports. Missy and I were in charge of "Te Whare Toa," which means, "The Champion House." During that year there were different events and we were doing well.

"Te Whare Toa"

I'm on the top right corner, and my sister, Tina, is in the front row, 3rd from the right.

Tina was doing a lot of the work in regard to arranging practices and such. I don't remember doing anything really. All I know is that at the end of that year, my last school year, I had to go up and get a lot of awards at the prize-giving ceremony.

This picture was taken outside Hukarere by the laundry and clothesline area. You can see what a great view we had from our hostel.

First I won the award for "Best Maori Essay" which was determined at Napier Girls High School, and then I won the award for self-esteem, which surprised me. (Later, I realized it must have been at least partly due to my being bumped up to the 7th form). Then "Te Whare Toa" won a lot of awards, and since Missy, the other prefect, wasn't there that day, I had to pick up those awards too. When I went up for about the 3rd time, the lady giving out the awards said to me: "You must be a very great leader." I just smiled and said "Thank you." (It was mostly thanks to my sister for all her work with the sporting events).

Speaking of my sister, reminds me of an incident that cannot go without covering. From the time we were little, she was bigger than me, even though she was younger, and she was a bit of a bully. Being a prefect meant I had to supervise chores, and she was giving me a hard time about something. I don't remember what it was now, but I know I was furious. I found her in the bathroom and confronted her about it. I explained that when I ask her to do something, she has to do it. It was part of my job as a prefect. She had a problem with that, and started physically fighting with me. Nothing serious, no broken bones or anything. But I didn't back down. After a while we must have got tired and eventually stopped fighting. Later in the day she came up to me and said: "You truly are my big sis." We hugged and apologized to each other. We've never had another fight since.

Even with all the hard times I went through, I have to say going to Hukarere was one of the best decisions I ever made. I learned so much. How to be independent, how to stay strong in my Maori heritage, and develop spiritually. I feel very lucky to have been able to share the experience with the other girls who attended. It's an experience that will stay with me forever.

Hukarere's motto: "Kia U Ki Te Pai" means "Cleave to that which is good" - taken from the Bible - Romans 12 verse 9).

Hukarere has had a few different locations. It first opened in July 1875, and is now located at 17 Shaw Rd, RD2 Eskdale, New Zealand.

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A great experience for me. Most of it good & some memories I did not really want to remember. But such is life, we all learn & grow from them. I thought …

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