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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa



The Germans were the second largest immigrant group in New Zealand after the British up to 1914, yet there was no German print culture to speak of in New Zealand during that period. The reasons for this have to do with the type of German immigrants and the nature of the settlements they founded. Although the German settlements in New Zealand were numerous, they were not large enough to support a print culture of their own. This is quite unlike Australia, where there were, and still are, German-language newspapers.

The first organised German settlements in New Zealand, in the Moutere and Waimea valleys of Nelson and the Rangitīkei district, were strong Lutheran communities with their own German churches and schools. German was an accepted language in these communities right up to 1914, when anti-German sentiment forced the closure of German schools and the abandonment of church services in German. Descendants of these early settlers have Lutheran Bibles and German diaries among their family heirlooms, but there is no evidence of a local German print culture from this period.

The main thrust of German settlement was in the 1870s, when Vogel's assisted immigrant scheme specifically targeted Germans and Scandinavians to help with public works schemes. In Europe, agents of the New Zealand Government recruited workers who could help with the clearing of bush and the building of railways. These immigrants—mainly farm workers and labourers—were as a rule not literate, although their children had begun to benefit from the Prussian compulsory school system. In the case of one immigrant group of 16 families, all of whom came from the West Prussian village of Kokoschken and many of whom settled in Taranaki, it is said that only one adult of the group could read, and it was he who had read about New Zealand and persuaded the rest to emigrate. Although German settlements sprang up all round the country at that time—in Halcombe, Inglewood, Norsewood, Carterton, Gore, Waimate, Jackson's Bay, and Marshlands, just to name a few—the type of immigrants and the nature of the work with which they were involved was not conducive to the establishment of a German print culture.

Furthermore, the vast majority of German settlers did not join German settlements. They tended to assimilate quickly into the English-speaking majority society and were 'submerged' into the New Zealand English culture. The Germans' perceived ability to integrate rapidly into colonial British society was one of the main reasons for their recruitment in the first place. In those German settlements which continued to exist beyond the first few years of German immigration, German continued to be spoken among the older residents up to the 1960s, but this was an oral tradition, not a written one. The Bohemian settlement of Puhoi still takes pride in keeping alive some of the German dialect expressions of its founding fathers.

World War I brought a rapid stop to German immigration, and the only German 'settlements' during the ensuing decades were the German internment camps on Motuihe and Somes Islands. During World War II, the Somes Island internment camp produced a newspaper of sorts—the Deutsche Stacheldraht-Post, which informed internees of internal and external developments—the fortnightly issue for 11 April 1942 is numbered 14A.

German print culture as such is a relatively recent phenomenon in New Zealand. This is due to three main factors: the growing number of German immigrants to this country over the last few years, the teaching of German at schools and universities, and New Zealand's popularity among Germans as a tourist destination.

Over recent years various newsletters and newspapers in the German language have been established to serve German-speaking immigrants in New Zealand. In many of the larger cities there are German, Austrian, and Swiss clubs which publish newsletters in German. Areas which have a concentration of recent German settlers—Golden Bay, Coromandel, Bay of Islands, West Auckland—often have community or church newsletters with contributions in German. The Methodist church in Massey (near Henderson) had an annual Christmas service in German for three years from 1993.

There are Goethe Societies in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin, all devoted to the nurturing of German culture and language at schools and universities, which bring out various newsletters in German. The Goethe Institute in Wellington also produces material in German for teachers of German in New Zealand. Its best known publication is GANZ—short for 'German in Aotearoa New Zealand'—a newsletter principally in the German language aimed at teachers of German at schools, technical institutes, and universities. As far as tourism is concerned, there are countless brochures, leaflets and books produced by the New Zealand tourist industry to cater for the large numbers of German, Austrian, and Swiss visitors to our shores. There have been various attempts to establish German newspapers for German-speaking immigrants and tourists, but they have been by and large unsuccessful.

The universities and their libraries are the main guardians of German print culture in New Zealand. The Otago, Canterbury, Victoria, Massey, Waikato and Auckland University libraries have large collections of books in German, many of them dealing with German language, literature, and civilisation. The language, literature and culture of the German-speaking countries are part of the curricula at all these universities, and academic staff in the German sections and departments at these institutions frequently publish in the German language, though their books and articles are normally published in Germany. The locally-printed monograph series, Otago German Studies, under the editorship of E.W. Herd and August Obermayer, has produced nine volumes between 1980 and 1997.

The highly-regarded periodical Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, a joint venture by the German section of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association and the Canadian Association of University Teachers of German, publishes articles in German. For many years Seminar had a New Zealand associate editor, and two members of the present editorial committee are from New Zealand universities. The general journal of the Australasian Universities Language and literature Association, AUMLA, partly based at the University of Canterbury, also publishes articles in German.

Though small in relation to the proportion of German-speaking immigrants, German print culture in New Zealand is nonetheless a significant contribution to the diversity of print culture in New Zealand.