Proud grandchildren of Dutch immigrants

New Zealand has been a pot pourri of cultures after waves of immigrants have come here over the last two hundred years, mainly from Europe, the Pacific Islands and more recently in numbers, from all over Asia, most notably from India and China.

Dunedin was founded by Scottish people who were concerned that the country would be dominated by the English. That is part of the city’s heritage, and bag pipes and haggis still feature in ceremonies.

But the Chinese New Year is also celebrated, and there are a variety of cultures represented in other events.

The last mayor of Dunedin was born here but had distant Chinese heritage, and the mayor before that was born in India.

One culture that is barely noticed these days is that of the Dutch, but when I was young that was more evident. We had Dutch visitors (I don’t know what connection they had with our family), and in the seventies I worked with the son of Dutch immigrants. Another generation or two on it’s barely noticeable, but there will have been a definite impact in New Zealand from Dutch culture.

Martin van Beyen writes Dutch immigrants of the 50s fading away

I bought a new suit the other day. The suit got its first outing this week at my Uncle Theo’s funeral. He died, aged 90, surrounded by his family last Friday.

Uncle Theo came to New Zealand in 1953 and was followed three months later by his bride-to-be, Afra. His sister (my mother, who is still alive) arrived two years later with my father, who died about 10 years ago.

A pastry cook by trade, Uncle Theo went on to own a number of bakeries in Christchurch including a wholesale pie business.

Some would say Uncle Theo (we called him Ome Dick) was a typical Dutchman. He was hardworking, routine-driven, stubborn, socially conservative, a natural contrarian and knew the value of a dollar. He would have seen my new suit as a waste of money.

He was also one of the last of his generation of about 11,000 Dutch immigrants who came to New Zealand between 1951 and 1954. Well over 100,000 New Zealanders now have some Dutch heritage.

A small but significant minority, possible accentuated by the short surge in Dutch immigration.

I wonder how we will regard the legacy of that wave of Dutch immigrants who came to New Zealand in the 50s and who are now fading away. Mostly blue collar workers and tradespeople (my dad was a mechanic), they made a major economic contribution, already often acknowledged, and brought a not always welcome brand of Europeanism to the racing, rugby, beer-orientated New Zealand society. Although their skin was the right colour, locals often found their accent strange, their manner brusque and their thrift ungracious.

Although some immigrants tried to preserve their Dutchness, most knuckled down and assimilated aggressively.

Perhaps they took to heart the attitude of senior immigration official Dr Reuel Lochore: “We must make new Britishers: by procreation, and by assimilation; by making suitable aliens into vectors of the British way of life.”

But some things were hard to suppress. Uncle Theo worked as a storeman when he first arrived and was told off by his fellow workers for working too fast.

It was clear the Dutch work ethic came as a shock to the strongly unionised New Zealand workforce where British work to rule was more the custom. Maybe some of that Dutch work ethic did rub off and it was certainly instilled in their next generation. Well, mostly.

I learnt a strong work ethic when I grew up, but it was in a rural area with no sign of union locally.

However in Central Otago the work ethic wasn’t universal, as there were frequent references to the shovel sucklers of the ‘sunshine gangs’, Ministry of Works workers were not known fore their industriousness.

Making fun of them probably reinforced the work ethic I learned.

As I was growing up I didn’t get the impression being Dutch was highly regarded and at high school it was definitely nothing you would want to advertise.

After Uncle Theo’s funeral I was sitting with some of his grandsons having a beer and asked them what they thought about their Dutch heritage.

They seemed proud of it, to the extent they emphasised their Dutchness over the other backgrounds flowing through their veins. A very different attitude to my generation and one that Uncle Theo and Aunt Afra can take a lot of credit for.

You can talk a lot about material contributions but you know the Dutch have truly arrived when the legacy of people like Uncle Theo lives on in the pride his grandchildren have in their heritage.

In contrast, I have English heritage. One grandmother was a Great War bride (from Chelsea) who married my grandfather, son of an immigrant from Liverpool and a grandson of a family who arrived (ex rural Bedfordshire) as part of the  Canterbury settlement in 1852.

I have a bit of historical interest but little empathy for my English heritage. I don’t back any English sports team, and feel nothing for the English royal family – to me they are foreign not just in country but also in what they stand for.

On my other side my mother was born a couple of years after her parents and five siblings immigrated from northern Wales (from near Caernarvon). As far as I saw they almost entirely they left their culture behind,

My teidiau (I just looked that up online and don’t know if it’s correct) died before I was born, but I’ve been told he learnt to speak English when serving in World War 1. Twice, both times reluctantly on request, my nana (that’s what we called her) said just one Welsh word – Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

That is the only reference to my Welsh heritage I can remember apart from my mother recalling being taunted with ‘Taffy was a Welshman’ as a child.

This may not have been just a family thing, I have seen little sign of Welsh culture in New Zealand. I think the Welsh wanted to distance themselves from being seen as second class to the English.

Perhaps as a result I don’t feel subservient, nor superior. I am a product of the Kiwi melting pot – much like those with Dutch ancestry. I’m a proud Kiwi – and part of that pride is due to a general acceptance of a range of co-existing and overlapping cultures in Aotearoa.

I’m interested in other cultures – it makes a welcome change for the narrow mono-culture I grew up in.

Leave a comment


  1. Blazer

     /  13th January 2018

    surprised there are only 100,000 dutchies in NZ.Auckland alone has over 200,000 chinese.I would have thought there was a big increase in ‘Dutch’ from SA,since 1995.This is a good descriptor…’. He was hardworking, routine-driven, stubborn, socially conservative, a natural contrarian’…would probably add….god fearing and arrogant.

  2. Gerrit

     /  13th January 2018

    Found this on foreign blog that explains what why the dutch (me included) are termed “arrogant”.

    “The Dutch are direct (incredibly direct at times), and they say what they think and feel. This is perfectly normal in the Netherlands, and no-one would regard it as rude or arrogant, but to people who come from countries which aren’t so direct it can often appear to be very rude and arrogant. The Dutch, on the other hand, think that Brits, Americans, Australians, etc are incredibly weak-willed and insincere, when we just act in a way that is considered “polite” in our own country.

    Of course, there are certain things about “the Dutch” (if you can use such a generalisation) that are arrogant, but then again people from every country tend to be arrogant about the way certain things are done in their country. Think about something that you think is really good about your country, better than it is in lots of other countries – you’ll be perceived as arrogant about that by lots of people from other countries.”

    We call a spade a spade and it riles people not used to it.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  13th January 2018

      A Dutchman I knew had a joke about how copper wire was invented….two Dutchmen fighting over a cent.

      The boundary between plain speaking and rudeness is easily crossed (says someone whose family is from Ulster :D)

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  13th January 2018

        Do you still eat gestampte muisje sandwiches ?

        Squashed mice to those who don’t know any Dutch. The unlucky mice are not hard to find in NZ.

        I used to like squashed fly biscuits 🙂

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  13th January 2018

          The ‘sable’ biscuits we had in Belgium were well-named, they were like eating sand.

          I loved windmill biscuits when I was little-and still love biscottes whose Dutch name I forget, Generously spread with butter, of course, and glued together with it because they break easily.

  3. sorethumb

     /  13th January 2018

    You could have found just as much negativity towards Poms (or Jaffas for that matter).
    Having said that current immigration policy was the product of neo Marxists (CARE, HART etc). Humans are not designed for multiculturalism having evolved to function in small groups of people just like themselves.

    • Mefrostate

       /  14th January 2018

      Human beings aren’t designed at all, and thankfully we can use introspection to overcome the less selfish elements of our evolutionary programming. That’s why I wear condoms and it’s also why I judge people on their behaviour not their skin colour.

  4. Corky

     /  13th January 2018

    Damn. That post brings back memories.

    1- Dutch folk.. kiwis both loathed and grudgingly respected them. It was rumoured some of our locals were Nazi sympathisers during the war. Probably bs started by small minded people in a small minded country.But some things were hard to suppress. Uncle Theo worked as a storeman when he first arrived and was told off by his fellow workers for working too fast.

    2- ”But some things were hard to suppress. Uncle Theo worked as a storeman when he first arrived and was told off by his fellow workers for working too fast.”

    Yep, I was taken aside on my first job by a union drop kick and told to ”slow down” otherwise the boss would expect that level of work all the time.

    3- Dutch pastries. I still pine for the Dutch pastry shop in Gisborne.

    4- Denise…still pine for her too. She had the best of Dutch DNA.

    5- Ministry Of Works boys. Going to a job the truck rarely made the speed limit. Coming home it was a Ferrari as it headed for the pub.

    What a great and weird place this is. So why are we ruining it?

    • Corky

       /  13th January 2018

      Opps. No 1. Stop at small minded country.

      • Kitty Catkin

         /  13th January 2018

        I would guess that there could well have been Nazi sympathisers among so many-we know that a number of Dutch people were sympathisers, party members and informers, so the chances of none of these emigrating are not high. But who’d admit to such a thing?

        • Gerrit

           /  13th January 2018

          The Dutch were the masters of passive resistance. There was aggressive resistance but the greatest deeds were done passively. The two largest acts of passive resistance were the hiding and return to England of downed allied airman (Holland being on the flight path to Germany), and the hiding of Jewish children among the population.

          The latter would prove problematic as the children had grown up with their foster families only to be returned to their natural parents or blood relatives after the war finished.

          worth a read


          One of the problems for the Germans during the war was policing and maintaining to subjugate the occupied territories. Experienced troops were needed for fighting, not occupation so locals were recruited into the Gestapo and occupation forces. The local recruits would not generally serve locally and in Holland many Belgium Nazis were stationed and served with not much compassion and a great deal of brutality.

          also worth a read

          “The Dutch resistance can mainly be characterized by its prominent non-violence, peaking at over 300,000 people in hiding in the autumn of 1944, tended to by some 60,000 to 200,000 illegal landlords and caretakers and tolerated knowingly by some one million people, including a few incidental individuals among German occupiers and military”.

          • Mefrostate

             /  14th January 2018

            While we’re talking about the Netherlands it might be a nice moment to remember the time you tried to defend Trump’s ambassador by sharing literal fake news saying that my own neighbourhood was a no go zone.


            Good times indeed.

            • Gerrit

               /  14th January 2018

              Your point is?

              If you think all is rosy, your view is not shared by many.

              So will you be investing time, money and energy into one of these “No Go” areas?

              “No Go” area is not just about Muslim segregation, it is about how to get people to integrate and invigorate those areas with the before mentioned time, money and energy.

              Currently these “No Go” suck in a lot of tax payers guilders for very little reward in regards new Muslim integration.

              Muslims from previous immigration’s have integrated (from the East Indies mainly), concern is centered around the newest “batch” consisting mainly of young men who have no desire to settle or integrate.

              worth a read


              “Cinderella Meijer, who works at a local youth centre, said the migrants had been banned after damaging the facility and stealing from it.

              She said: “This has already been playing out for ten years. They get everything from the city council, everything is done. But each time they destroy and steal.

              “They even threatened us with a firearm when we tried to stop them from smoking inside.””

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  14th January 2018

            I knew about the resistance and the hiding of Jews, of course, but also about the Dutch Nazis and informers like the one who turned in the Franks and their friends, The reward for this sort of thing was tiny,

            One has to know about the bad as well as the good in history,


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