Wild goose chases to raise funds are just one of the many recollections that Margaret Wilson has of the role taken by the families in supporting St Peter’s College in the early days. Wild geese in large numbers were a problem on the Nicholson farm at Knapdale and parents would take part in a hilarious and usually muddy round up to catch as many as possible. These were then sold for Easter or Christmas lunches and the money raised helped to support the school and the Fair.
Margaret was a member of the Kubala family, who came to New Zealand from Austria and Czechoslovakia in the 1870s. They moved to Gore in 1903 and settled around Lady Charlton Road. The Kubalas specialised in grass seed and they helped to supply the gear and the seed for laying out the school playing fields.
Margaret’s husband, Bill, was also involved in the fund raising bottle drives, when the Gore streets would be divided up and volunteers went around in trucks collecting empty bottles which could be returned to depots for money. Later when the chapel steps were being constructed, he was to be found helping to lay the concrete despite the fact that the family were in the middle of moving themselves and their business to Alexandra.
When the Rosminian priests and Brothers had arrived in Gore, Margaret became one of the band of “mums”, who looked after the domestic interests of the “boys”. Names were drawn out of a hat and Margaret’s charge was Fr. Bernard Widlake.
The “mums’ helped them to adjust to this totally new environment in New Zealand and gave them a base away from the college. Meals were provided in homes around the town and the Rosminians returned their hospitality with invitations to the evenings at the school.
The Wilsons were also Ascribed Members of the Institute of Charity, set up in the area by the Rosminians to undertake charitable and neighbourly work.
In the early days, Margaret also went into school and helped out teaching sewing to both boys and girls. When the time came for the Fairs, Margaret would be found sewing (she particularly remembers making Gonks!), and baking and finding plants for the plant stall.
The first five of her six children became pupils at the school, before the family moved to Alexandra for a few years. Before SPC was built, Catholic families in Gore had faced the prospect of sending their children away to boarding school in Oamaru or Dunedin. Having a Catholic school here made this disruption and cost unnecessary and was a great help to local families.
Paul Wilson was a first day pupil, followed through the 1970s by Brett, Denise, Karen and Anne. Margaret describes them as a “swimming family”, but they were involved in a wide range of sports teams and all the cultural activities that the school had to offer.
The Rosminians, ever keen to broaden horizons, used to organise activities in the school holidays and would plan and lead trips and excursions here and in the North Island and Stewart Island. Brother Ted also took groups further afield to Fiji. Many parents went along as helpers on these trips and when groups went tramping in Fiordland they usually had a member of the local tramping group along for their expertise. Margaret was asked to go as a parent helper on a trip to Fiordland and having no experience of tramping decided to practice by trekking up and down Frank Street with a backpack loaded with encyclopaedias!
The family’s connections with the school have continued over the years. Denise and Karen both became teachers themselves and Denise’s three daughters were also pupils at SPC. Margaret has continued to attend Blues ceremonies and sports events and has maintained contact with some of the Rosminians who taught here in the early days. She credits them with bringing a wider world to Gore and showing that good education can open the door to that world.