Sandy Cochrane - Managing the menagerie

4 minutes read
Posted 10 April, 2024
SandyJ rightJ and Podge taking in the view after a hike at Governors Bay near Christchurch copy

Sandy, right, and Podge taking in the view after a hike at Governor’s Bay near Christchurch

She was there when the first parapenters landed in the playground, at the helm in the search for the stolen school bell, and consoling children when Wicky the school cat ate a classroom’s pet mice and goldfish.

In more than 40 years of teaching, mostly new entrants, 26 years at Queenstown Primary, Sandy Cochrane’s warm and bright positivity has wiped away many a tiny tot’s tear.

Retired and living in Rolleston nearer family these past five years, Sandy and husband of 55 years Podge Cochrane, long-time Queenstown School caretaker, are planning to move back here where Podge was born and bred.

Sandy has seen many changes in education since she started out at Newfield Primary School in Invercargill, fresh out of Dunedin Teacher’s College, aged 19. “I had 30 kids in my class and the following year, at 20, I had 40 crammed in,” she recalls. “The school inspector came in and couldn’t find me amongst them all.”

Raised in Invercargill, Sandy treasures memories of holidays at the family crib in Te Anau, leaping over the dozens of lakefront boatsheds. Theatre became her thing during Tweedsmuir Intermediate years, eventually starring alongside veteran broadcaster Dick Weir on the James Hargest High School stage.

Podge and Sandy began dating at high school where Sandy was a prefect and after a five-year romance, married when she was 21. Teaching has always been her passion and after living in Central Southland and teaching at Hokonui Primary School, husband Podge scored a job as Queenstown Motor Park manager in 1987 and they moved here.

“I taught first at Arrowtown Primary and absolutely loved it. Then Mel Gazzard (principal) asked me at a course one day if I wanted the Queenstown assistant principal’s job. I was stunned.” That led to the deputy principal’s role and many happy memories with fantastic staff, kids, and parents.

Sandy was known for going the extra mile, taking five-year-olds on school camps handy to town and on one occasion sleeping overnight in the huge school fair marquee with Podge to guard the masses of gear donated for the giant white elephant stall. “Never again! We had people snooping round on their way home at night and security guards shining torches at us.”

American and Asian tourists regularly stopped to chat to the children in the playground and take their photos in more laidback times. That then progressed to commercial parapenters landing clients in the playground in a nice side earner for the school. Novel at first with teachers taking the children out to meet the parapente clients, the kids soon became ‘quite ho-hum’ about it and barely looked up. “Not many schools had that happen,” laughs Sandy. “On occasion they’d land in a tree, and one landed on the library roof with a thud once.”

Even more alarming was the mystery disappearance of the school’s huge, historic, cast-iron bell - a precious local artefact from the early lake steamer, the Ben Lomond. The thieves removed the huge bell and smuggled it offshore. It was eventually located in Australia and returned to the school. “Podge made sure it was super secure and bolted down after that.” Meantime, a new bell, the last to be cast at a Dunedin foundry in 2006, had been crafted and remained in another spot – Chris Parvin writing a children’s book about that.
In another unsolved school whodunnit, office turtle Tefa, mysteriously disappeared from her terrarium for many days then suddenly reappeared.

“The kids were devastated as both the bell, and the turtle, were part of their school day.”

On another occasion lessons of a different kind were needed when Sandy sent a five-year-old to the shared schools’ dental clinic with a message for the nurse. St Joseph’s children were waiting to be seen. “He came charging back and said, ‘I ain’t goin in there! It’s full of them Kafflick kids!’”

Sandy’s long been an advocate for single cell classrooms and is encouraged they’re coming back in, while truancy levels these days astound her. “Those children are not getting a good start in life.” One of her biggest challenges in life has been ensuring children work and strive to their full potential. “It’s up to us to bring that out of them,” she says.

A life member of Showbiz Queenstown, Sandy was secretary to the first professional director hired for Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat in 1988. Shows were a Cochrane family affair, son Justin on stage and Podge building sets while Sandy kept the admin wheels turning for some 30 years.

Sandy and Podge have backpacked the globe, travelling overland through Europe in a VW Combi – 30,000 miles, and home through India and Nepal. “We’ve ridden elephants, camels, and stayed in tree huts where monkeys pinched our soap.” They’ve seen more than 50 countries, ticking off Canada, Alaska, Africa, and the Mediterranean during retirement.

“We took a year off work and various terms. Mel encouraged it and thought it was something all teachers should do.”

SandyJ top rightJ son JustinJ centreJ and PodgeJ belowJ during the HMS Pinafore production in Queenstown in 1991

Sandy, top right, son Justin, centre, and Podge, below, during the HMS Pinafore production in Queenstown in 1991


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