Sunday, 17 May 2015

Jack Mill’s Miniature Bungalow

Just before we arrived at Lake Brunner I saw a sign ‘Historic Bungalow’ pointing down a side road. We checked it out later in our stay when we were out on a short tiki-tour around the district.

This is the site of the historic Jack’s Mill School, a small rural school built in c.1909 in the saw-milling settlement of Kotuku. It closed in the 1955 but not before something quite extraordinary happened.

It was quite appropriate that we were visiting the school on April 25th, ANZAC Day- not that we knew that this was where the locals held their ANZAC service. A flag flew at half-mast on a flag pole in the centre of the original gardens next door to an old Peter Pan Fountain. The memorial gates were installed in 2006 and commemorate the men & women of the district who served in the World Wars- the original gates that were planned when the school opened never came to fruition.

The palings for the gate were cut from a totara log felled in the mid 1900s and the M tooth saw is a feature of the gate. The saw was designed and patented by Frank Mattson, a local involved in the saw milling industry and whose five children attended the school.

Little distinguished this school from any other rural school in New Zealand. That was until Edward Darracott was appointed headmaster in 1935. Darracott had a new and controversial approach to educating children. His aims were clear-

“…it had seemed to me, that the teaching, particularly in the two senior classes should be along more practical lines and that above all the child should be taught to think for himself, not take lessoms spoon-fed from the hands of a lecturer. More still, this training to think and to act should be in situations as life-like as possible. Too long has the school been divorced from life as it is to be lived by the child afterwards.”

Darracott gave his pupils hands on projects to teach them practical skills that would equip them for adult life especially after the dark years of the Depression.

Making over the school’s garden was the first task. He then moved the children on to a much more ambitious project. He led a group of 10-12 year old students in designing, building and furnishing a small bungalow, built to three-quarter size.

Students were involved in all aspects of the build including sourcing three-quarter sized interior appliances including a bath tub, hot water cylinder, stove, kitchen sink and kitchen units. When finished the bungalow was fully functional, complete with electricity & running water. It was used as the home economics room until the school closed in 1955.

The bungalow was restored in 1994 by former pupils and families and is open to the public every Sunday afternoon, from 2-4pm, We visited on Saturday so we missed out on seeing inside.

Behind the bungalow are these relics of a childhood past; maybe this was the junior pupil's project while the seniors worked on their bungalow.

It never fails to surprise me the number of hidden gems we come across on our travels.


  1. Edward Darracott deserves a significant place in the development of the modern New Zealand school curriculum. More than most people yet understand. The Dunedin Teacher's College (Now part of Otago University) produced A video in 2001 on him and his experiments at Jacks Mill doing so they came in contact with a number of ex-pupils who all had fantastic memories of him...not all from Jacks Mill. He conducted equally impressive educational experiments in other schools also, notably at Blaketown (Greymouth) and Mataura in Southland. Darracott gretly impressed the then Minister of Education, Peter Fraser, and sent detailed reports to him. The momentum he began was halted by the Death of Michael Savage (Prime Minister) and WW2 which then became the country's priority...from 1935 to 39 Education was the main emphasis.
    Darracott was the first principal of Tahuna Intermediate (Dunedin) in 1965....he died in 1974

    1. Thanks Keith for the insight and history lesson, very interesting indeed.


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