The foundations of Rongotai (Sound by the Sea) were laid in 1926-27 . . .
. . . following a report by Mr Frank Milner to the Minister of Education on the need for New Zealand schools similar to those of the American junior high school system. Rongotai, it had been agreed, would follow such lines being an intermediate for both boys and girls of the eastern suburbs of Wellington and would be under the control of the Wellington Education Board. However, before the buildings were completed, the Wellington College Board of Governors, through its chairman, Mr W.P.H. Barber, had expressed concern about the lack of accommodation at the secondary institution “over the hill”, (Wellington College). The Wellington College Board had asked for relief and carried out negotiations with the Department of Education and the Education Board.
Rongotai, it was then decided, would provide the relief. Mr Milner’s recommendations would be put aside, and the new school, instead, would be partly post-primary and partly intermediate and for boys alone. Its first students would be Wellington College boys living on the eastern side of Mount Victoria and the boys of the sixth standards of the Lyall Bay and Miramar primary schools.
Rongotai College was opened in 1928. The first Headmaster was Mr Fritz Martyn Renner, his First Assistant was Mr H.T.M. Fathers, and there was a staff of seven senior teachers.
By 1929, a strong Parents’ Association had been formed and a year later the Ladies’ Auxiliary came into being. These two bodies gained for themselves a very high reputation with their self-sacrificing work, generosity and never-failing spirit of co-operation.
The Old Boys’ Association was founded in 1930 with Mr P. (Pat) Tipping as its first president, and began making an ever-increasing contribution to the community in sport, learning and professional skill.
A major achievement during 1932-1939 was the building of the college’s assembly hall. The coffers were empty, the Board of Governors had no money but the enthusiasm and generosity of the Parents’ Association and Ladies’ Auxiliary gave or lent some £400. A further £800 was borrowed (with hard and fast conditions of repayment of principle and interest) from the Government’s Unemployment Fund, and the building, costing £1,756 was begun in 1934 and completed early in 1935 – it is now named the ‘Rec Hall’, and currently houses the school “Tuck Shop”/cafeteria.
The college excelled at sport. The Kilbirnie Cricket Club, as early as 1929, offered to take under its wing all who wished to profit from further coaching. Many Rongotai College old boys, as a result, played senior cricket (and many, many more do today). The Rongotai Football Club (now Oriental/Rongotai Football (Rugby) Club, the Kiwi Amateur Athletic Club, and the Maranui Surf and Life-Saving Club all helped to build the character of many of the students. The old boys’ records are also graced with numerous examples of academic achievers, successful businessmen and other high achievers.
For the early principals, the joys of a young and growing college were mixed with difficulties, delays and uncertainties. They had to withstand the whims of administrators, and the cruelties and caprices of the Rongotai climate. At one time or another they have been attacked from all points of the compass including from above.
Climatically, the site has always provided challenges. Gusty, persistent winds from the north and more emphatically, ice cold polar blasts from the south in winter have rocked the very foundations of Rongotai. They have contributed to the evolution of some of the world’s bluest and hardiest sets of legs.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Kilbirnie Stadium was located to the immediate west of the school. It offered its own brand of disturbance, but is now fortunately part of the grounds, hosting cricket and football pitches.
In 1939, the New Zealand Centennial Exhibition was being planned and the buildings were to be put on the school grounds to the south. Six acres of playing painfully prepared and much needed playing fields were handed over to the Exhibition Committee in May, 1939 on the understanding that immediately after the close of the Exhibition, restoration of the grounds would be undertaken, and they would be given back to the school.
Rongotai Airport, to the immediate east, for many years threatened the very existence of the college. It seemed that re-siting to an area at the start of Broadway would be inevitable, and plans to do so were developed. Luckily, these plans were never implemented.
Traumatically, its infant years coincided with a great depression and its adolescence with bloody and brutal international conflict. In the middle age it had to contend with the critical consequences of economic recession and inflation. In recent years the school has responded to the new diversity of the New Zealand population and built a fine record in its responsiveness to these new challenges.
Today the college is as distant from the original concept as it could be, with no intermediate (which ceased to exist in 1964) and no female students. As the college enters its 86th year, the efforts of its principals – F.M. Renner, H.A. Heron, A.E. Lock, N.A. Mackay, A.D. Powell, G.R. Jarratt and the current Principal K.R. Carter – along with a host of others, teachers, board members, parents, old boys and students – enable Rongotai College to stand proud in its tradition and achievements.
Lumen Accipe et Imperti (Receive the light & pass it on).