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

New Zealand was good to me

page 161

New Zealand was good to me

I was privileged to be sent to St Mary's College in Wellington, which had very good teachers. I passed University Entrance and in 1954 commenced my studies at Victoria University of Wellington for a Bachelor of Arts. Though I passed other subjects, I failed the compulsory 50% pass rate in English. Worried and discouraged, I assumed this was because English was not my first language, and that the unfamiliar grammar and idiom were at fault. But now I feel that I did not fully apply myself to all the reading required.

Also, getting by on a meagre 10s pocket money a week made me decide to discontinue university. It would have been helpful if someone had explained to me my failures and advised me. But at the time I was not aware that such help existed and hope it now exists for foreign students.

I applied for work in an office. Then I met and married Michael Quirk, who was very conscious that working in an office would not give us the best start in our life. We started saving hard and each took additional part-time jobs. We then bought a dairy in Khandallah, Wellington. Work in business was hard and it became even harder as our children were born, but this had set us up financially. We moved to Tauranga, worked on a poultry farm and then on a dairy farm.

Eventually, we returned to Wellington where in the 1980s I decided to complete my degree. Why bother at this stage of my life? We were already successful but for me it was like some unfinished business. I still needed a sense of achievement. Anyway, I had always enjoyed learning. It was not easy getting back into studying, but being a mature student I was able to commit myself fully to my studies. First I studied extramurally and then fulltime. Finally, 31 years later, in 1985, I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts.

Looking back, I know it is not the result that gives most satisfaction but the process of getting there. We encouraged our children Anthony, Diane and Darren to study. They all gained university degrees, and have happy and stable careers and partnerships. There is only one thing I regret and that is that my children never learnt to speak Polish. But this did not stop them from visiting my homeland or enjoying the company of their many Polish cousins there.