Runanga School has a proud West Coast history. Entwined in its story of time are the generations of miners families, the timber workers and millhands, engine drivers and roadmen. Some of those family names from yesteryear still grace the roll at Runanga School today.

Runanga School 1906

From these classrooms of learning and instruction have come countless representatives of the Coast and numerous sportsmen and women representing New Zealand in various sporting endeavours, from the Boston Marathon to Rubgy League. Runanga, once the home of one of the most well-known boxing stables in the country, “punches above it’s weight.”

With a reputation for hard men, strong women and tough, uncompromising sportsmen, Runanga has always been a fiercely independent community.

Backed by the limestone and coal outcrops of the infamous Paparoa ranges and constrained by the nearby town of Dunollie, Runanga is bisected by state highway 6 as it meanders North to the coast at Rapahoe, or South to the Grey river and Greymouth.

Runanga is, was and always will be a coalmining town. Even if the last scraps of black gold were to be teased from the bowels of the Paparoas, and every last man, woman and child were removed from the township, it was built on coal, it thrived on coal and its very existence depended on coal.

In this age of political correctness and sensibility, there might well be concerns about extolling the virtues of coal, in the face of global warming, climate change, air pollution and the telltale marks of carbon footprints. But this isnt about proclaiming the benefits of coal extraction. This page is about the history of Runanga and it’s school. Intricately entwined in that story is coal.

We can’t ignore it. We cant pretend it didnt happen and we need to let our children learn that this heritage in which they are living, is a rich, real and vibrant heritage that they should all be proud of. What happened to the coal once it left here, was not of their concern or control. Without the coal, miners and their families would have starved. 

This town hasn’t always been a one-school town. It once proudly boasted a Catholic School as well as the state run school that thrives today. Combined student numbers were in the hundreds. The community itself was a community to be reckoned with. The generously broad sweep of the main street was once adorned with stores, shops, butchers, drapers, smallgoods, engineers, blacksmiths, mechanics and hostlers. Industry wasnt just restricted to coal extraction either. In the 1950s for example, there was a very rich flax business here and later, in the 1980s, sphagnum moss also paid the bills for a few families.  

Our school of today is a far cry from those heady days of coal-powered potbellies chuffing away in the corner of each room. Today, learners use digital technology to reach into every corner of the world, faster than they could search an encyclopaedia. These learners are at the forefront of global citizenship as they communicate, question, pose problems, create solutions and interact with the outside world.

But they do so, armed with their own stories, earned underground, over generations, on the hillsides and under them and always overlooking them.