Since its establishment in 1872, the Okains Bay School has always played a very significant part in the life of the community at Okains Bay. Okains Bay had a somewhat ‘wild west’ reputation in its earliest years of European settlement, due to the presence of bushmen, whalers and others who were used to leading a very tough, hard-working life in primitive conditions. It took the arrival of some special men of ‘good standing’ like the Rev Henry Torlesse and the establishment of the school to bring some form of order to the community.
As it moved from being a community of transients to a more established community, the school played a key role in changing the anarchistic state of Okains Bay into a more civic spirited community. Children would be taught in the school by day then their parents would attend by night to be taught to read and write. The effect of the work of the early teachers led an early school inspector to declare “the moral tone of Okains Bay School is unsurpassed in my experience” (Gordon Ogilvie - Banks Peninsula: Cradle of Canterbury, 1990).
Torlesse assisted in setting up many sports teams and clubs in Okains Bay to help develop the moral tone and community spirit. This community spirit and enthusiasm for outdoor pursuits was reflected in later years in the success of the students from Okains Bay School. They were often Banks Peninsula Sports Champions in the regional sports competitions, despite competing against larger schools including Akaroa. This success was built upon the support and enthusiasm of the local community which has been prevalent in the school and community for generations.
In 1940, a sad event demonstrated that close link between school and community. During the Christmas holidays, two school children were caught and drowned in quicksand while crossing the tidal area used for swimming instructions at the Estuary. The Headmaster at the time, despite being very new to the school, instigated community support for a swimming pool to be built at the school. Despite it being during the war years when men and materials were hard to come by, a few years later Okains Bay School became the first school on Banks Peninsula to have a learner’s swimming pool, thanks totally to the support of the local community.
School families, and importantly, the wider community of Okains Bay has always been concerned that the students of the school enjoy the same activities and learning experiences as those in main centres. To this end, they have supported the school very diligently over many decades through fund raising activities such as a calf rearing scheme. Many generations of the same families have served the school in a variety of roles and continue that interest even though no longer having direct contact with the school. School concerts, sports and pet days, trips and camps have always been part of the school curriculum and the wider Okains Bay community enjoys sharing the successes and supporting the students in these events. These school based events have been the ‘linchpin’ in tying the school and community together and neither will survive without the other.
Okains Bay is unique in having an internationally renown museum and a precinct of original historic buildings within its community. The students of the school have always been connected with this Museum, being involved in many activities that provide them with opportunities to interact with visitors from all around the world, in a unique and special way.
Due to the close proximity to the special places within their environment and its history being prevalent all around them has enabled them to gain a great understanding of their community and its history.
Throughout its long history, the school and community have been dependent and supportive of each other, both working to ensure the students of Okains Bay enjoy the best education possible within their own caring community. Neither will survive without the other.