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

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Posted: 05 May 2017

I was sent to the roxburgh health camp in the late 70,s for reasons I have still to know.
The abuse at the camp was horrific, sexual and physical.
I remember asking the teacher at school one day why I was there and he replied because you cant read.
I answered yes I can started to read from the book in front of me.
This sent him into a rage.
he picked me up by the throat and shoved me into a small cupboard only 2feet by 2 feet and that's where I spent the day locked inside of it balling my eyes out.
This then became a regular occurrence.
I thought about running away but when another boy did run away he was caught by the police and brought back to the camp only to be severely beaten by the woman that was in charge.
He ended up in hospital and I never saw him again. Ill never forget his screams begging her to stop until he went silent.
That changed my mind about running away.
Another time we where in the craft room being looked after by a rather overweight nurse who when she went to sit down broke the chair, I few of us laughed.
she calmly stood up, locked the door and then continued to punch and kick us and even used a length of wood to hit us with.
sometimes at night you could hear a girl screaming from the girls dorm and she always looked very frightened, I often wondered what was happening to her.
I did tell my parents about the place about 20 years later and my father was very upset to hear what went on there.
To this day I have always maintained if I ever run into some of the staff that worked there back then they would get their dues that they deserve.


Posted: 16 Nov 2016

I was 7 years old when I attended the Otaki Children's Health Camp in 1956. My physical stature made me a prime candidate for the camp as I was very, very skinny and my Dad was adamant that I should attend. I went willingly and treated the prospect as a holiday adventure.

Perhaps life would be very different for me today if I, like others I have read about, had come away from the institution with nightmarish recollections of the six weeks spent at Otaki - but that was not the case for me. I left with fond, pleasurable memories of my experiences there.

I arrived at Otaki Children’s Health Camp as a happy, sociable lad and arrived back home apparently much the same person perhaps with a healthier complexion. As a 7-year old I may have been aware at some level, but my parents certainly did not detect the changes that had occurred in me. In reality I came home highly sexualized with inappropriate views about relationships. In particular, wash time and bedtime experiences with two female staff members created distortions that came back to haunt me later in life. It took much time and pain before I could recognize and label the ‘pleasurable’ memories for what they really were - sexual abuse.

I don’t condemn the institution as a whole because there were very helpful and very caring staff who did their best for the children in their care. It is a pity however that the great achievements by the majority may be undermined by a minority of their number.

Mike C

Posted: 24 Sep 2016

I too had a terrifying experience at a health camp. The offending institution in my case was roxburgh health camp.
You may notice I did not use capital's, that is because they do not deserve to have them.

I experienced the same confusion, fear, humiliation and night after night of despair as many others on this page, but I don't want to put too much in writing.

What I would like to know is if there are any support groups for us.

I am now in my mid fifties and only discovered how many others were treated just as badly as my self or worse, through Trade me old friends which no longer exists.

I do not know how much the treatment/abuse I recieved in 1965 (I Think) has affected me through the years, but I have some of the same issues as others who attended these camps.

I am not sure if I am allowed, but I am going to post my e mail address in case someone else has a story to share.
Be strong.
[email protected]

Marion Brooks

Posted: 01 Aug 2016

I went to Otaki Health Camp around 1962 when I was 7 or 8. I was so scared when I got off the bus as I didn't understand why I was there or who these people were. I wasn't eating well and when I wouldn't eat they put me in a small room and locked the door until I had eaten my food. I found a small hole in the wall and used to shovel my food into it. They discovered this though but I can't remember what happened about it.
I told them I couldn't eat because I felt sick. One of them would drag me to the toilet and push my head down into the toilet while yelling at me " be sick then"!
My Mother told me years later that when I got home I was black and blue. She wanted to complain to the police but for some reason she didn't.
I have obviously forgotten a lot but it was a hell hole and when my mother once threatened to send me back there one day when I was naughty I never forgot that. I never forgave her for it either.


Posted: 28 Jul 2016

I was 8 years when I attended health camp with my older brother in 2004, I don't know how it was back in the old days but my time there was great, really great staff friendly peers had a few fights here and there with opposite dorms but overall was a good experience, it does make you miss home a lot, but I went there with a bad anger issue and came back home better than I left, food was great and they even celebrated the kids birthdays often taking the whip camp to see a movie or go to porirua to swim at the pools, don't know how it is now but my time there was a good eye opener and experience.


Posted: 31 May 2016

Well I am just starting to address my imprisonment in the Roxburgh Health camp where I was sent as a nine year old in 1959 and was there for 2.25 months wondering the entire time would I ever see my family again. Supposedly some idiot believed I was undernourished and I was force fed with food, supplemented with endless amounts of cod liver oil, skimmed milk and maltexo by the tablespoon. The confinement has left me with a legacy of weight problems that have caused me low esteem, anxiety problems, inability to sleep in the dark and most of all an extremely bad temper all from the legacy of being held down each day and force fed and imprisoned in a strange place with no family or friends. Despite my mother being a registered nurse they decided to play god and ironically they now have a contract to treat 1000 children who are obese yet do not want compensate all of us abused children. I have had to pick the scab and address this background as I have been a tough parent and my lovely children have all such bad memories of my parenting ir lack of because of my quick temper and I need to right the wrong before I die. I also intend to take this matter as far as I can and our voices will be heard so watch this space. I accept the current management of childrens affairs are not responsible but that does not mean someone else is and whilst we are happy to address abuse of treaties and church and state wards this is no different and to think some child can be plucked out of a family environment and wake up in an unknown prison for 2.25 months and not have any long term effects on that child is simply failing to face up to the harm they have caused.

John Prideaux

Posted: 15 Apr 2016

I was there in about 1948


Posted: 28 Mar 2016

Hated the place. Worse than prison. Went there because my mum was solo and sometimes in hospital. Was made to eat orange peels, pumpkin skin and apple cores.
Was hell for me, used to stutter and wet the bed because of my alcoholic father. I was bullied by the whole dorm.
Went there a few times. My sister escaped from there.
Wouldn't believe that was 1970s and happened New Zealand.
Only bad memories of that place.


Posted: 02 May 2015

I was placed in the Otakt Health camp for stx weeks around 1943-1944
I came from a poor working class family, I was a bed wetter and very skinny
I cannot say it was wonderful but in the six weeks I stopped wetting the bed, meals were regular and the dose of cod liver oil and cup of cold milk every morning at ten oclock I fought against but learnt the easiest way was swallow it quick.
Swimming at the beach was great, went home brothers could no longer call me pee pants, nearest holiday I was ever given, Matron was firm but fair lot of the children were naughty, It gave our folks a break cost was nothing , my photo was on the front page of the Women's Weekly with Lord and Lady Newall??, following February. we lived in a hard world but weren't we fortunate.

T & R

Posted: 24 Jul 2014

My brother and I were sent to Austwitch in around 1975. 6-7 weeks of hell. We were not molested but it was run like an army camp and we were just little kids. I cried my eyes to sleep each afternoon and night. There were 1 or 2 caring teachers, the rest were pigs. Still haunts me to this day!