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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Our extended family

page 233

Our extended family

As children of Polish and English parents, we have always felt a strong connection to our father's Polish heritage. With our dziadzia (granddad) also living with us in Stokes Valley, Lower Hutt, Polish was the second language in the home.

Polish Saturday school (though we resented attending it at the time) was a useful way of drawing us into the Polish culture. In 1976, we were fortunate to visit relatives in Poland (Będzin and Prudnik), and get a sense of our history and the strength of the Polish people.

The annual Polish picnic in the spacious grounds of St Patrick's College in Silverstream was one of those events not to be missed – the memories of all the families, walking from group to group, swimming in the pool, watching the children's novelty races and enjoying the Polish food. We have been able to introduce our own children into this community.

The Polish Youth Club was a great way to stay in touch with a lot of our friends when we moved into college years and we always felt a sense of belonging with the group. Knowing that more than 90% of Poles are Catholic, we look back and realise that the link with church was stronger than going to Kiwi Mass. We think it is more than possible that we could have strayed from the church if we didn't have this strong link.

Polish dancing became important to us for many years in our early adult life. We had a sense of pride in ourselves and the culture we were sharing. Performing at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Polish children's arrival in New Zealand was a very special time for the group in celebrating our history.

Even though we are not full-blooded Poles, nobody has ever treated us differently. We feel that the Polish community admired our English-born mother Hazel for fostering our Polish side, and it is a great feeling to be able to walk into the Polish House and be greeted by people that we don't know very well, but who obviously know us through our parents and grandparents. What a sense of belonging.