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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Spare the rod, spoil the child?

page 172

Spare the rod, spoil the child?

I recall vividly how soon after we arrived in the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua, Mr Holona, who was our senior disciplinarian and a firm believer in physical punishment, issued instructions that no one was to leave the camp without permission. At that time, we had all spent about four years or so without parental guidance, so he was obviously worried that we would get into mischief if we were allowed to go into town.

One day a small group of us decided to sneak out of the camp and find out a little bit about New Zealand life. I later guessed it must have been a day before Anzac Day because on the footpath was a stand with artificial red flowers and a bucket. Passers-by would take a flower and throw a coin into it.

We had just come from the hardships in Russia and our stay in Iran, and we could not understand why there wasn't a guard standing by the bucket. We thought he was somewhere out of sight. We didn't get into any mischief and managed to sneak back into camp without being found out.

After a decent length of time elapsed, we described to one of our house mothers what we had seen in town. We were told that we were very lucky that we did not get any ideas about the money in the bucket because in New Zealand you had your hand cut off if you were caught stealing. That revelation rehabilitated us and I personally believed it for a long time, because in those days crime was almost unknown.

Now, since the Government has taken over the responsibility for raising children and abolishing any deterrent for misbehaviour, things have changed beyond recognition. Out of the 733 children who came to the Pahiatua camp in 1944, only two have seen the inside of a prison, according to former Prime Minister Jim Bolger. Mr Holona's view that to spare the rod was to spoil the child might have something to do with our respect for the law.