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

Enterprising spirit

page 237

Enterprising spirit

My brother Andrzej and I had a wonderful childhood growing up in New Zealand, living in numerous North Island towns that took dad and his work to hydroelectric power stations. In 1960, we settled in Wellington where it was nice meeting many children with a similar background.

I enjoyed Polish Saturday school where mum, other "Pahiatua girls" and ex-army officers were our teachers. Polish language and traditions were very important to their feelings of self-being and they wanted to impart this to their children. We all longed for a free Poland.

The Pahiatua children and their spouses, usually from the Polish forces, were the basis of the Wellington Polish community. They worked hard to establish the first Polish House in Kenwyn Terrace, Newtown, and later the massive renovations of an old bakery in Newtown, creating a new large, homely and very functional community centre – the Dom Polski (Polish House). We can only hope that the pioneering and enterprising spirit, and strong patriotism that inspired this sense of self reliance will continue in the next generations of New Zealanders of Polish background.

My mum was very active in Polish community affairs, being a founding member of the Polish Women's League. Her proudest moment as president was meeting Cardinal Wojtyla before he became Pope John Paul II. I know mum was very happy with her choice to remain in New Zealand, and the Pahiatua children were all her family and subsequently ours.

My brother and I settled in Australia. Andrzej works as a policy analyst for the Federal Government and married a Polish girl, Ursula, who teaches at Belconnen Polish School. My life is blessed. I enjoy work as a pharmacist part-time and assisting my Polish-Australian husband Kazik, who is very busy with his architectural practice. My teenage children love and remember all the times they spent with babcia (grandma) and dziadzio (granddad) who used to spend six months of every year in Australia.

Through my children, I'm involved with Polish school, the Syrenka Folkloric Ensemble and Polish Foundation. It's enjoyable to be able to make a meaningful contribution to Polish groups and I hope that our descendants will maintain their cultural heritage while remaining good citizens of the country they live in.