Nothing has changed. The classrooms are full of art and creativity. The cake boxes are in the kitchen. Older children are running between the classrooms with tall leaning towers of paper cups and napkins. Show Day or Ag Day, whatever you want to call it, at a rural school is like getting organised for a wedding. So much to do. It’s all got to be done by the time the bride, or in this case the lambs, show up and unless you have a charmed life, be prepared for something you didn’t expect to happen.
Whakamarama School, high in the Kaimai, north west of Tauranga is an old, cluster of little wooden buildings; an historic rural school. Over the years it’s been a hub, faded away and then started to sparkle again. At one stage I was told it could be closed, now it’s bursting at its seams and they’re turning children away.
This may be the second or third year I’ve been “up to school” with Jo and the team to assess a spectrum of the children’s creativity the evening before “Show Day”. Each year Jo and I are amazed by the diversity of talent and the standard of workmanship and presentation. Again this year I have to check that “the child” actually drew, coloured, created something. It’s superb and I wish I was that talented.
Jo and I take absolutely ages to judge anything. We first look over the work to be assessed. We look at everything once. Sometimes something jumps into your eyes yelling “I’m the best of the best” but we follow our process. We go back and look at each item individually. We crouch down and look inside, underneath and just stand and stare. We talk and comment to each other. We look for the story, the meaning, the creativity and the workmanship. Then we walk back down the row with our preliminary placings. We pick up the Place cards, the ribbons and the Highly Commended cards. We put them by the works. Then we stand back and take another look. It’s one of the hardest jobs in the world to chose only three or four projects and to finally turn over the name cards and write up and sign the place cards.
The other year Jo and I felt so much of the work deserved comment that the Principal kept having to go and print more “Highly Commended” cards. No we weren’t being kind and giving everyone an award, we were acknowledging wonderful, excellent work. This year in one section of one aspect of creativity we feel we cannot make the usual awards – one is given a “Highly Commended” and that’s it. And that’s life, not everything you do wins.
It’s Saturday morning so I work backwards. Get ready, get the bag and my little plastic bag of gold and silver coins ready to buy my barbecue sausage on bread with tomato sauce and mustard burning through the thin paper napkin and my Sharon Harty caramel slice from the cake table.
Then I finish wrapping my dried flower bunches, pull on my not-Redband boots and go and cut the Rosemary and foliage. I put that in water ready to prepare when I get back. It looks like rain so I wear my Verge black nylon windcoat which is probably older than the oldest child at the school today. Drive down the road and park on the grass roadside just past the school. The carparks are already full.
I go straight round to the big, flat playing field at the back of the school. The lambs and goats are ready to rumble. The Judge has been doing this task for years and stands in a pristine white coat in the middle of the cream-clothed arena. This is what brings back the ghost of Ag Days past. The goat with scours, the crazed sheep, the calf dragging it’s tiny determined owner along the grass (I recall that child won).
I stand with the older relatives and watch as sheep and goats do and do not do as they are expected. As usual one or two (animals not children) try to escape over the sides of the enclosure, one bolts out the entry way and several indicate that they can think of better things to do than this by stopping to eat the grass, or urinating or defecating on the pathway. There is however enough compliance (by the animals) for ribbons to be awarded for leading, calling and conformation.
I’m eating my sausage in bread when one of the mothers tells one of the fathers that she’s “taking the lambs home because they’re being chased around the field”…..so nothing has changed. I finish my sausage. This year I’ve avoided getting covered in mustard but I ask a passerby if I have tomato sauce on my face.
I go round and check out the remaining lambs and goats – one appears to be wandering and one is eating the Punga fern at the back of the classroom. I mention to one of “the men” I think a lamb has unwarranted freedom of movement. I’m past chasing lambs and picking up hay.
I check on the “small animals” or “pets” – four hens are eating in unison. In the cage next door are two tandem eating rabbits. There are several other cages but I leave their occupants to their lunch.
I talk to the two ladies in the tea and cakes room. I talk to one of the students from my last year’s te reo class. I realise I’m having a wonderful time.
It’s time for the bucket raffle. This is the Show Day spectacular. Thankfully it’s been moved from my first small cramped, classroom experience, the next year to the library and now it’s outdoors. The bucket raffle is exactly that – buckets of amazing goodies donated by parents and local businesses. I don’t buy tickets – I get bitter and twisted when I see the bucket I wanted going home with another.
I wander out of the school past the beautiful little old swimming pool, the playground construction, all the gardens, the flowers, across a lawn that has been walked on now by generations of the district’s children. It’s magic.
I forgot to ask where they’re going to put the new classroom.
Rosemary Balu. Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.
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