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



There has been a small but regular influx of Scandinavians into New Zealand in the two centuries since Swede Daniel Solander first visited with Cook. Swedes alone numbered about 4,000 immigrants in the period up to 1940 (Aminoff, 1988). In the last five years (1991-96) 500 Scandinavians have immigrated to New Zealand, according to figures supplied by the Department of Immigration. Again, Swedes have been the most numerous, followed by Danes and Norwegians.The major wave of immigration, however, took place in the 1870s, as a direct result of Sir ū and the Wairarapa (Laurenson, Julius Vogel's public works policy, to Hawkes Bay, Manawat1955). A gathering to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the first Scandinavian settlers was organised by the Dannevirke Scandinavian Club in early 1997.

There are at least a dozen Scandinavian clubs or societies in New Zealand and other gatherings have taken place in Norsewood, Masterton, Hastings, New Plymouth, Foxton and Auckland, where the Scandinavian Club (Inc.) was founded in July 1939 (according to its July 1979 newsletter, held in the Hocken Library, Dunedin).

Despite the level of Scandinavian immigration, and the obvious interest in their Scandinavian ancestors shown by many of the members of these clubs and societies, there is but little evidence of an active Scandinavian print culture in New Zealand. George Conrad Petersen (1956) records four short-lived periodicals in Scandinavian languages: Brevduen (The Carrier Pigeon), a religious monthly edited by Edward Nielsen in Mauriceville in 1875; Skandia, a newspaper edited by a Palmerston North bookseller and produced by the Manawatu Times at the end of the same year; and two more religious papers: Pastor Georg Sass's Evangelical Lutheran Monthly (1881), and Pastor D.G.M. Bach's The Scandinavian Lutheran Weekly, which was published alternately in Danish and English from June 1915 until Bach left Mauriceville in 1916.

As regards more literary texts, all Petersen has to offer is poet Lars Andersen Schou, who wrote 'En ny sang' (A new song) in 27 verses in the early years of immigration, and 'Fremad paany' (Onward again) in 1910 (Petersen, pp.114-117).

In contemporary New Zealand literature, Scandinavia is represented solely by texts in English. Yvonne du Fresne (b.1929) makes good use of her cultural heritage in her short stories featuring Astrid Westergaard, a young girl of Danish ancestry growing up in the Manawatū; du Fresne also sets part of her novel Motherland (1996) in Denmark. Carin Svensson (b.1942), on the other hand, is a Swedish immigrant who has chosen to write her own fiction in English, publishing a volume of short stories and a novel before returning to Sweden. She has also contributed to the cultural exchange with her native country by translating Janet Frame's Living in the Maniototo (1979) into Swedish: Bodde alltid i Maniototo (1990).

What printed works in the Scandinavian languages are held by New Zealand libraries? In early 1997, enquiries were sent to public libraries in the four main centres in New Zealand, as well as three other centres. Replies were received from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Invercargill. Auckland Public Library and the Canterbury Public Library have the largest holdings: Auckland held 104 books in all the Scandinavian languages (Danish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish), though only two were in Icelandic, while Canterbury listed 67, with Swedish- and Danish-language books making up the bulk of them. There were only 11 books in Swedish in Wellington, and none in any of these languages in the smaller centre of Invercargill.

By far the most extensive collection of books in the Scandinavian languages is that in the University of Auckland Library. The only university course in Scandinavian studies in New Zealand is that which was set up (as part of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature) at the University of Auckland in 1965, though Old Icelandic is taught from time to time at other universities (primarily Otago and Massey). Since that time, the library has built up a collection which would be no disgrace to a public library in a reasonable-sized Swedish town.

Given the likelihood that the earliest printed materials in the Scandinavian languages to arrive in New Zealand were religious ones, the New Zealand National Union Catalogue was searched for Bibles, hymnbooks and prayer books in those languages. A number of early Bibles were listed, many of them published by the British and Foreign Bible Society in the various Scandinavian capitals. The earliest Scandinavian Bible found was one published in Copenhagen in 1607. It is held in the Hewitson Library at Knox College in Dunedin, as are several of the others: one from 1835 which, judging by the publication details, is probably Danish, though it is catalogued as Swedish; and Swedish ones from 1814 and 1867. Auckland Public Library holds a Norwegian Bible from 1860, a Swedish one from 1864, and the only Icelandic one found, published in 1866 in London by Brezka og Erlanda Biblínfélags (the ubiquitous British and Foreign Bible Society again).

The Union Catalogue and the Auckland University Library catalogue were then searched for books by the most prominent Scandinavian authors prior to this century, and some authors of the early to mid 19th century. Most of the oldest editions held proved to be translations into English, such as one of Nina by Swedish author Fredrika Bremer (1801-65) published in London in 1844, and History of the Swedes by Erik Gustaf Geijer (1783-1847) from the following year (both at Auckland University). Auckland Public Library holds the memoirs of Danish playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) translated from Latin into English and published in 1827.

Of works in the original languages, the oldest editions held at Auckland University were works by Swedish poets P.D.A. Atterbom (1790-1855), Svenska siare och skalder: eller Grunddragen af svenska vitterhetens häfder, (2nd ed. 1862-63); and Geijer, Samlade skrifter (1873-77). The earliest non-translated work by Holberg was in Latin: Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Havniae: Sumptibus Societatis ad Promovendas Literas Danicas Conditae, 1866). Elsewhere, Auckland Public Library holds Holberg's Den danske skueplads in an edition from 1876.

The giants of mid 19th century Scandinavian literature were well represented in the University of Auckland Library collection, but again, the earlier holdings tend to be English translations, which suggests that those in the original languages were added to the collection after the Scandinavian Studies section was established. There are 82 items by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906), but the earliest items in Norwegian are his collected works, published in 1906-07 (apart from a Festschrift in honour of his 70th birthday from 1898). Elsewhere, the National Library holds an 1884 edition of Kærlighedens komedie, and the Parliamentary Library reported an 1886 edition of Peer Gynt, hopefully edifying reading for our elected representatives past, present and future. This library also listed an 1876-80 edition of Samlede skrifter by Denmark's Hans Christian Andersen (1805-73). Auckland University Library has no fewer than 152 items by Ibsen's great Swedish rival, August Strindberg (1849-1912), but none predates his death. From a slightly later era, Norwegian Nobel Prizewinner Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) is represented by 34 items, none published before 1913, and from a slightly earlier one, there are no works by Norwegian playwright Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910) from before the same year.

The above is just a brief sampling of New Zealand library holdings in the Scandinavian languages: those in the University of Auckland Library are obviously the most extensive. In the absence of evidence of many materials actually produced in the Scandinavian languages in New Zealand, by earlier or more recent immigrants or others, the fine library collection developed over more than 30 years by those teaching in the University of Auckland's Scandinavian Studies section must stand as the one substantial example of Scandinavian print culture in this country.