Otaki health camp, 1940s

Otaki health camp, 1940s

The dining room of the Otaki Health Camp in the 1940s.

Content warning: Comments on this article contain mentions of abuse.

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31 comments have been posted about Otaki health camp, 1940s

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Posted: 23 Nov 2022

Interesting at the age of 83, to be reading of other children's experiences back in the 1940's. They, like me, were sent to the Otaki Health Camp, initially for six weeks. I was sent because my mother was ill, and I actually did a double stint of 12 weeks. Twelve weeks of mostly misery. I can still recall the smell of the evening meal wafting towards us, my stomach beginning to churn....and then vomitting into my plate. And on one occasion bring made to eat it. I ran away but seven year olds can't go far so of course I was discovered hiding in the sandhills( by the only kind staff member I remember) and carried back.
I recognised myself in one of the photos of kids eating apples, and immediately recalled the name of the girl sitting next to me.... hadn't thought of her for 70 years. One of the few pleasant memories.
And yes, like so many others, I'm only now "appreciating" the damage done.


Posted: 04 Aug 2022

I went here in 2004 as an 8 year old and after reading the comments not much had changed. It was one of the worst experiences I've had in my life. I was taken separately out of the dorm most nights to have a bath for my eczema. Whoever took me would watch me get undressed everytime and if I refused they would strip me naked anyway and 'help' me bath. I was told if I ever told my dad anything that happened at bath time I wouldn't be allowed to talk to him anymore. My dad sent me parcels everyday to try and cheer me up but eventually the staff started taking them and opening them. They ate all my lollies which were in one parcel and laughed in my face about it. When my dad complained they were opening my mail the staff just made me open it in front of them and then they took it, said it was unfair on the other kids that weren't getting mail for me to have mine. I specifically remember a staff member who got stood down after a girl locked herself in the bathroom to get a way from her physical abuse and they kicked the door open on her head. Another staff member use to woke us up at 5am for us to run to the beach while yelled abuse at us. Another girl in the dorm had a crooked finger when she arrived so the staff took it upon themselves to break it and set it 'correctly' she was screaming no and crying for the whole process that they just carried out in our dorm. Theu regularly searched out tiny little dressers by our beds and took what they wanted. I cried every single day I was there. 6 weeks felt like forever and no one would ever tell me how much longer I had to stay when I asked. I will never forgive my mother for sending me here. I don't blame her for the sexual and physical abuse I received though, seems that was just a standard part of the service they were providing.

Gabrielle J

Posted: 28 Jul 2022

I was sent to Otaki Health Camp when I was 7, (1957) it was deemed suitable for me by the local Carterton District Nurse as I still wet the bed & was not welcome to stay with relatives because of it.
It was like something out of an old Victorian Orphanage..Being one of the youngest there was horrendous and set me up for being bullied.. The staff were cruel & seemingly enjoyed it. The beach & Pine forest were welcome highlights.
6 weeks was like a lifetime.. From being a happy chatty child prior to going I became very shy & internalised. Sanctioned child abuse was definitely part of the curriculum.. My mother told me many years later that when I got home I was a very different person.. I never shared the actual experience with anyone til I was in my 20s...

Helen B

Posted: 26 May 2022

My sister and I were sent to Otaki Health Camp in 1973. We were there for 6 weeks and I hated it.
The dorms were cold and sparse, and even though it was winter, we only had one blanket each.
The food was horrible. I remember being forced to eat Junkett on a Sunday night as a "treat", this junkett was loaded with nutmeg - to this day I can not stomach the smell or taste of nutmeg.
Even though we were sent with toothpaste, by the third week we were brushing our teeth with baking soda.
The only good thing I remember is walks to the beach and picking up pumice.
To this day, I think of the place more as an orphanage than a health camp.


Posted: 25 Aug 2021

When I was 7 and 9 years old I went to Otaki health camp in the 90s twice for 6 weeks at a time I hated the place I was made to sleep in the girls as the boys dorm was full on Both stays. I have a sleeping disorder that causes me to rock in my sleep I was punished for this every night. By a manly looking women and she would kick me in my private parts while no one was watching. I was so scared I wouldn't sleep due some night in fear of Rocking in my sleep. I tried to run away onces a didn't know my way so I climbed on top of the class room roof and sat up there all day I could hear her looking for me and calling with threats I came down at as it was getting dark she found me out on this round stage thing out toward the pines and beat me with a shoe I was then kick up the bum when I got back to the girls dorm in front of every body also they all Lough at me I snapped got mad and pulled her hair and ran down the hall way towards the room we all eat in she chased me there I was kicked in the private parts so hard I needed stichers. I was then put in a little room after a nurse fixed my testies. I told the nurse she didn't care at all was told to not speak of it. they called this little room I was put in safe room for the night. Woke as I rocked in my sleep in the morning the rocking loosened the stichers. I still have scares today one testie is deformed now I wish I could remember the names of this Manly looking half cast lady and her husband with the pony tile so I can dish her the pain I went thru I felt targeted because I was different I still have a sleeping disorder to day these people need to be held accountable for what happened to me. I feel but after reading some of these posts i feel sick to the core you poor people went though so much

Rena MacLeod

Posted: 10 Dec 2020

I did time at Otaki Health Camp in 1953. It is staggering to think they got away with subjecting children to such a traumatic experience. I recall a militant environment, forced afternoon naps, and fearing deeply one of the matrons who was prone to lashing out at kids who put a foot wrong. I remember kids, deemed to have misbehaved, getting lined up, chastised and belted with a leather strap in front of the others. Even a child who had wet the bed was disciplined in like manner. My parents had sent me some sweets, but this was intercepted, and my parcel was communally distributed. I was 7 years old, homesick, utterly miserable and scared, and I didn't even know why I was there. I remember a kindly fellow who took us pine-cone picking in the forest, but this camp experience overall was profoundly cruel - abuse by any other name, despite the intentions behind it. The best part of the two months of hell was finally getting out. I was 3 stone 4lbs when I was incarcerated, and 3 stone 11lbs on release - minimal gain for a lifetime of having to block out the memories.

David Ross BARNES. BORN 28 / 08 /1939. WANGANUI. NZ

Posted: 08 May 2020

I attended Otaki twice in the early Fortys, .Fortunatly,I went with my Sister, M Lois Barnes/
and I was allowed to Sleep with Her, Both then and Latter it Wanganui Orphanage . Twice.
I made a lot of Friends Even though I was away from Home for variously reasons.Polio etcI got used to it.
Even Got to like the Cod-liver Oil. Started to go back for More. Hard to Believe, Eh?
The Staff Were o.k..Iteamed up with a mate, 7 we used to go along the beach to the shops for some lollies.Seems strange, that here with since 2002. Virus, and having to be separated from Homes.


Posted: 24 Apr 2020

I was sent to Roxburgh Health Camp in early 1977 when i was 6 years old.
I knew why i was at the camp , it was to help my parents after i had a head injury that effected my learning and behavior.
I can remember the first day at school there , the teachers were a married couple and they were very nasty. We would get humiliated in front the class if we couldn't read or write in a timely manner.
I was locked in a small dark cupboard for not being able to read from a book in front of the class and this would carry on until i could do so. Being in that cupboard in the dark still haunts me to this day. The teachers there would call us dumb , stupid and many other hurtful names.
We were threatened by the teachers , that if we said anything to anyone about what had happened in school that we would get worse than what we had been getting. This scared many of us and nothing was ever said until later in life.
Night time in the dorms became scary sometimes , as you would hear a different kid being woken and taken out of the dorm to the TV room on different nights. It wasn't long before it was my turn to go to the TV room. The staff member began asking questions and if it wasn't for me saying my surname and that i had family who lived in Roxburgh , i don't know what would of happened.
Many of the kids in the dorm became like zombies.
Some of us tried to tell staff of what was going on , but because all we were to them were kids with problems.
Don't get me wrong there were some good times at the Health Camp , but when you think of those good memories , the bad memories seem to take over.

Scared 3 x

Posted: 11 Nov 2019

I went to Otaki health camp 2 maybe 3 as a child. I hated it. I was home sick crying all the time. I had to wear shoes that were to tight. My feet had blisters all over them. I remember nurses smacking us around the heads with their jandals. One boy got repeatedly kicked up the bum in front of us all. I remember. On the first day I arrived I was made to strip to singlet and undies. My hair was check for nits and a doctor looked at us all lined up. He even looked down our pants. I also remember when there was no hot water and we were made to go for a swim in the middle of winter in the nude. Both boys and girls we were all shivering. I remember as punishment for not making my bed right. Was doing nude press UPS on the floor of the dorm room. I remember the nurses standing over the shower room looking down at us showering. And making rude humiliating comments about our body parts. I hated health camp. I still hate the place to this day. It was like a military camp ..

Casey Hamblin

Posted: 22 Jul 2019

I went to this health camp twice during the 90s and absolutely loved it. I still look back on my time there with fond memories. I was probably pretty naughty but I still had an amazing time. I remember being so excited when I was told I was returning for a second time!
I’m sad to read it’s been closed for a lack of funding. That is a true loss to the nation.