College – Issue 40

NEWS & EVENTS Peter heads off to catch salmon

More than three decades ago, Peter Cooper saw an advertisement in The Press for a Geography teacher at Christ’s College. He had an MSc in geography and geology from the University of Canterbury, and although he hadn’t quite finished his teacher training he applied anyway, and Principal Max Rosser snapped him up. It was to be his first foray into teaching, and his last. At Christmas 2020, Peter retired after 33 years of sharing his love of geography, and a whole lot more besides, with College students. He was variously Master in Charge of road cycling, badminton and swimming. He worked with tennis, volleyball, clay target shooting, and football and basketball. He also led many outdoor education trips and school camps “making it real for them” and “giving the rural kids a chance to shine and the city kids an absolute experience”, and he went to Vietnam and Cambodia on Geography and History trips instituted by his colleague Neil Nicholson. “Those trips, when Neil and Ben Vink, Warren Lidstone and I took up to 48 boys away for about three weeks, have to be a highlight. We did that four times, and each was a marvellous experience – sleeping under nets on the Mekong Delta, or in luxury accommodation on Halong Bay, looking at the history of the country, and seeing the way it was developing.”

Peter was the perfect person to teach Geography, a keen hunter, fisherman and sailor from his days at Shirley Boys’ High School and, on leaving university, working in the Mackenzie Country for Lands and Survey and the Ministry of Works. His entry to College in 1988 was a shock. “Everything was new. The House system, the weekend involvement, the boarding structure, and the general complexity of the place.” He settled quickly, starting as a tutor in Harper House for 10 years, spending 11 years as Housemaster of Jacobs House, and 10 years in Julius House. “Spending those years in Jacobs was fantastic. With two young daughters, it was probably, on reflection, the most demanding, and also the most rewarding time I’ve had at College. It went way beyond teaching an academic subject, to steering the boys through the very formative five years of their lives. We were surrounded by other young families and it became a community within itself.” There was time out, too. A three- month sabbatical in 2002 saw Peter

and his family travel overland from Bangkok to Singapore, and from Cairns to Melbourne, and a one- year Royal Society Fellowship saw him research the infilling of the Brooklands Lagoon at the mouth of the Waimakariri River – “which coincided with my best salmon season ever.” He hopes to do more of that in the future. With a new caravan to use as a base, he intends to discover New Zealand’s little-known gems, like Okarito in South Westland, and to drop in regularly on his two grandchildren in Dunedin. Peter has witnessed the emergence of laptops and iPhones and the pervasive influence of the internet on classroom learning. Many boys were still to learn that the devices were tools rather than just for entertainment, he said. “It’s a challenging environment today – it feels as if there is a decline in general knowledge and interest in the world around us, because the answer is instantly at hand’s reach. I am confident that, in time, a balance will be achieved.”

“ Spending those years in Jacobs was fantastic.With two young daughters, it was probably, on reflection, the most demanding and also the most rewarding time I’ve had at College. ” Peter Cooper

College Issue 40 2021


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