From its early origins as farming land and as an undeveloped bush covered district where logs were once milled, the history of Opaheke and Ponga districts has undergone many changes throughout the years.
Opaheke is part of the wider Papakura area and also provided two sites for American servicemen during World War 2. Its name literally translates to “the place where the large slip occurred” that refers to a major land slip that occurred on Ponga Hill that worked its way to Coalmine Road many years ago. Today, only remnants of Opaheke and Ponga’s original vegetation remain.
Since the 1960’s, the wider Papakura area has expanded, resulting in less farming in the immediate Opakehe area and more housing and subdivisions. Most of Opaheke’s housing area now sits on what was once traditional farming land.
In 1968, Opaheke school was officially opened with eight classrooms, an office area and a library. In 1971, four more classrooms were built for junior classes. During the following years the school saw a decline in pupil numbers in 1988, but since then grew to accommodate over five hundred pupils in the early 2000’s with twenty classrooms and twenty two full time teachers.
In 1998, the Board of Trustees was given approval from the Ministry of Education to recapitate as a full primary school with its first intake of forty-three Year 7 students in January 1999. Today, Opaheke school continues to evolve into the 21st century, not only as a school of the times, but as an innovative and successful place of learning.
Fast forward fifty years from openings its doors, Opaheke recently celebrated its Jubilee, its first significant event since becoming a full primary school in 1999.
Former Principal from 1988 to early 2014, Murray Wratt says the Jubliee was special and one of significance for linking the past, connecting the present and looking forward to the future as well as honouring his former predecessor principal, John Garrick (now in his nineties, who was present at the event) who lead the school from 1972-1988.
The open invitation event was open to all past, present and current students, teachers, staff and families jam packed with activities from a morning guided tour, cultural concert, time capsule burial and a tabloid sports afternoon, followed by an evening of wine and cheese and a Saturday night pre -ticketed formal dinner to close the night.
Murray says it was wonderful to see the enthusiasm to what would surely have been a different type of school day for many and a great way for current students to connect and learn with ex pupils and the school’s history as well as reliving some of his own memories of his time there.
“ I was principal for twenty-five years, so there were a lot of happy times, as well as difficult, and I’ll always remember the quality of staff and teachers, how it was their choice of school and people wanted to work there. That was a huge advantage for us because once they got there, they bought great stability.” Says Murray.
During his tenure there, Murray also saw future development of the school which included the building of the new school hall, transitioning the school in its digital era and further developing the library.
Murray says these were all fantastic things but Opaheke school is more than just buildings and during his time, it was more about the culture that you aspire to that you develop with the staff that stems from the leadership of the school.
“That’s why there has been great continuity with the school’s Principals over the years.” Says Murray.
John Garrick also has fond memories of his time as Principal and started at the school in 1972, with his wife, Yvonne as the school’s secretary. He says one thing that always stood out was the friendliness of Opaheke’s community and the great staff he worked with and the types of events the school put on.
“I think we were one of the first schools (in the district) to have a Grandparents day, where we’d invite the grandparents along to whatever rehearsals for plays or musicals we were putting on and it was wonderful. I really enjoyed my time working here, everyone was so supportive and we were like one big family.” Says John.
The school’s Jubilee not doubt will have hosted many more memories, photos and talks of favourite teachers and subjects for all that attended, and even included a special video recorded by former pupil and rugby legend, All Blacks Captain, Kieran Read who grew up in the Papakura District and attended Opaheke school, where his mother also taught.
With an average six hundred pupils and the development of Drury South, Opaheke school is looking forward to its own future growth that could see further development and will look forward to another successful Jubliee in fifty years’ time.