When Barbara Fraser first came to St Peter’s College as part of her teacher training course, she couldn’t have imagined that she would be part of this community for the next thirty-two years.
Barbara wasn’t a local girl; home was an orchard at Earnscleugh in Central Otago. A pupil at Dunstan High School, she went on to study Languages and English Honours at Otago University and lived in Dunedin for several years.
Unfortunately, there was a glut of English graduates at the time, so she held off teacher training and was unemployed initially, until the Labour Exchange found her a job at the NZ Tablet and she became a proofreader. She recalls her pride in her first pay cheque in 1975 - $52 for a week’s work. Promoted to Circulation Manager, she was responsible for sending the magazine to priests and parishes all over the world. Over time, her role also expanded into accounts and journalism with the editor.
Marriage and a new life with Railways at the station in Kurow led to a change of career and she became a toll operator, including handling 111 calls at the local emergency centre. When her husband was transferred to Mataura station in 1979, they moved to Gore and initially she worked as a toll operator at the town’s Old Post Office.
By chance she heard on the radio that a new teacher training centre was to open at Invercargill and at last her opportunity had arrived. She enrolled in the first Dunedin Teacher’s College Outpost intake and St Peter’s was one of her home school training centres. When they needed a relief art teacher for two weeks, Barbara was approached and accepted. Ironically, she hadn’t been allowed to study art when she was at school, being part of the academic set, but she had always been keen on drawing. At home on the orchard, they used big sheets of paper to wrap the fruit and Barbara managed to keep herself supplied with this, despite her father’s strict rules on wasting paper.
When she was in Form Two, she was excused orchard duties so that she could cycle on Saturday mornings into Alexandra to do a painting course with Elizabeth Stevens, a nationally known artist. She promised Elizabeth that she would keep up with her own painting, but life intervened and there had been long stretches of time when it was neglected.
In the early days of the St Peter’s Art department most of the pupils had a period of art every day, but facilities were basic. The Art Department was housed in a pre-fab, there was no running water and little heating. Teacher and pupils were sometimes forced to jog on the spot to keep warm. Brushes had to be washed in buckets of water and in winter the ice on top had to be broken first. This activity was witnessed one day by school inspectors and not long after that a big room heater materialised and running water was installed. When the current art room was commissioned, it came fully equipped with a standard set of tools and equipment.
As well as teaching Art part time, Barbara taught English full- time and went on to become Head of Department and later Head of the Arts Department – covering several associated subjects. In the intervening time, observes Barbara, technology has revolutionised the department, but not necessarily improved it.
And what of Barbara’s own art?
In the late 1990s, she spent a week at Akaroa, studying watercolour painting with the celebrated artist, Nancy Titchborne. This proved to be a revelation and Nancy shared techniques and approaches to painting that have proved invaluable in Barbara’s own art. Soon afterwards she mounted her own exhibition at the Eastern Southland Gallery and boosted by sales there, has gone on to exhibit at many local venues. She became a Community Education tutor for adults and has done tutor work with other groups at evening classes.
Alongside her artistic activities, Barbara played, coached and umpired netball for many years. Her role at St Peter’s encompassed drama productions – initially providing sets, but later directing, producing and script writing. For many years she also had a hand in debating and readying students for the Bishop’s Shield Competition.
In 2014 a whole new chapter begins as Head of English and Dean of Years 7-10 at the Roxburgh Area School. In her time at St Peter’s, Barbara has always been aware of the feeling that this whole school community is united in a spiritual sense. She is curious to discover the glue that holds other schools together.