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Rangiatea old girls stroll down memory lane

Former residents of former Rangiatea Methodist Girls’ Hostel gathered in New Plymouth over Labour weekend for a reunion celebration.

Bella Ngaha who lived in the hostel from 1965-1967 says the reunion began with a powhiri and the reunion was privileged to have Evelyn Ellemore – formerly Sister Evelyn Marriot – present. She was matron at Rangiatea from its opening in 1940 to 1970.

In the early years Rangiatea catered for up to 12 girls on the Mission House site. In 1958 it relocated to the present site on South Road. At its peak the hostel housed up to 70 young women but it closed in 1977 due to falling numbers.

Although Rangiatea catered primarily for Maori students, it was also home away from home for young women from the Solomon and Ellice Islands, Rarotonga, Niue, and Fiji as well as a few Pakeha students. The students attended either New Plymouth Girls’ High or Spotswood College.

“Evelyn Ellemore came from Melbourne for the reunion. The person who travelled farthest came from Amsterdam, Holland and a number came from Sydney and Brisbane, not to mention all points of Aotearoa. There were about 70 or so of us altogether,” Bella says.

“Highlights included a lively wine, cheese and sing-along session on Saturday night. We all seemed to slip back into being teenagers again. There was loads of laughter. A guitar miraculously appears and then singing, singing and still more singing.”

On Sunday the old girls met again at Whitely Memorial Methodist Church where, as students, they attended church every Sunday. Minita-a-iwi Jim George opened the karakia and then tributes were made to those former students who had passed away.

“Their names were read and we lit candles lit in their memory. There was not a dry eye in the house. Many thanks to Alan Upson who led a service of worship that fit neatly into themes of memories.

“It was an encouraging revisit to church, especially for many of us who only remember church as boring and an opportunity to catch up on reading homework; learn French vocab; read your comics – as long as they were small and easily hidden from matron’s discerning eye – or maybe just time for a catnap.

“We then spent an awesome afternoon of sharing as we strolled down memory lane. There were memories of life at Rangiatea, life lessons learned from Rangiatea, and life after Rangiatea. There were a few tears and lots of laughter. Some recollections were sad, some were absolutely hilarious. But all the korero was highly valued. Some was soul-searching, some healing, and some an opportunity to celebrate.”

Bella commends Billie Taylor for her research into Rangiatea. A large number of newspaper articles and conference reports were photocopied and displayed so visitors could see how others viewed life at Rangiatea.

The organisers also compiled a small booklet for all who attended with photographs and official records included as well as some personal stories from ‘old girls’.

Nga mihi aroha tino nui ki a koutou wahine ma, Bella concludes.