North & South - - In This Issue -

Dorothy Walker goes back to school in the Cam­brian Val­ley.

Ablack-and-white photo of the “class of 1952” sits above the fire­place at Cam­brian School, near St Bathans. Of the nine chil­dren pic­tured, seven-year-old Dorothy Walker (née Har­ley) was re­lated to six of them. When the school closed two years later, her sis­ter and two brothers were all on the roll.

She re­mem­bers balanc­ing on the bar of first cousin Ed­win’s push­bike on the 2km ride to and from home, clothed in thick woollen lay­ers dur­ing Cen­tral Otago’s freez­ing win­ters. “In class, our desks would be ar­ranged in a semi- cir­cle around a big pot-bel­lied stove, which kept our fronts warm – but our backs were a lit­tle chilly,” says Walker, who lives in Gore but often spends time at a fam­ily home in Cam­bri­ans. “In the hot sum­mer months, the win­dows would be wide open and the nor’west­ers would blow through the room.”

A leather-bound copy of Louisa May Al­cott’s Good Wives was given to her as a farewell gift when the old school – which was built in 1885 – was moved to Becks to be­gin a new life as a Sun­day school.

But the vil­lage of Cam­bri­ans was never the same with­out it. Walker’s late brother, Don­ald, do­nated land so the build­ing could be re­turned and in 2006, buoyed by a huge dose of com­mu­nity spirit and fundrais­ing for re­pair and re­paint­ing, the school was brought home to the val­ley, where it’s open to vis­i­tors who can tin­kle on the pi­anos and learn about the Welsh set­tle­ment’s colour­ful his­tory.

By all ac­counts, the school’s last sole- charge prin­ci­pal, Alan Vuglar (also pic­tured in that 1952 pho­to­graph), was a bloody good man. “He helped the lo­cal farm­ers when they needed an ex­tra hand, and never once used a strap,” says Walker, who went on to have three chil­dren of her own. “We were so lucky hav­ing such a great teacher in that en­vi­ron­ment who cre­ated a real fam­ily feel.”

Per­haps he also played a hand in her fu­ture ca­reer – as a pri­mary school teacher.


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