Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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



The foundations of Croatian settlement in New Zealand have been traced to at least the early 1860s with the documented arrival and/or residence of pioneer adventurers, sailors and goldminers. There have since been five significant 'waves' of immigration: a strong flow from the early 1890s until World War I (approximately 5,000 arrivals); a short burst during the 1920s (around 1,600 arrivals) before the onset of the Depression; a small 1930s inflow (about 600 arrivals) between the tail end of the Depression and World War II; a fluctuating flow from the late 1940s until the early 1970s (approximately 3,200 arrivals) that included a small number of post-war displaced persons plus refugees in the late 1950s and early 1960s; and finally, during the 1990s, a flow of skilled migrants and their dependants.

Young single males, most of whom had no intention of permanent residence prior to the 1930s, accounted for the vast majority of arrivals. Their return migration (many of these sojourners appear to have visited New Zealand on more than one occasion), coupled with immigration restrictions from 1926 onwards and the natural attrition of an aging population, limited the growth of the community from 1,500 foreign-born members in 1921 to a peak of no more than 3,500 by the early 1970s. Given the unbalanced ratio of males to females, and difficulties in securing the entry of prospective brides, intermarriage has long been a feature of this immigrant population with attendant consequences for language and culture maintenance.

With the exception of both the arrivals in the 1990s, typically seeking refuge from conflict in former Yugoslavia, and the earlier refugees and displaced persons, the 'waves' of immigration have been dominated by chain migrants (i.e. persons sponsored and financially assisted by relatives and friends already in New Zealand) from a relatively small region on the central Dalmatian coast. Located south of Split, the region consists of a 70-kilometre coastal strip from the town of Makarska to the Neretva River estuary, the immediate hinterland districts (Vrgorac, Metkovic), the adjacent islands (Korcula, Hvar, Brac and Vis) and part of the Peljesac Peninsula. Like other Croats, these migrants were Slavs with a culture and history heavily influenced by Italy and Austria—hence their Catholicism and use of a Latinate rather than Cyrillic script. Dalmatia was under Austrian control for all but a brief period (1806-1813, when occupied by Napoleon's army) throughout the 1800s and until the creation of Yugoslavia at the end of World War I.

Before the advent of tourism in the 1950s and 1960s, the economy of central Dalmatia was one of peasant subsistence farming, viticulture, fishing, quarrying and seafaring with few opportunities for other types of employment. The transition from a purely peasant society was under way throughout Dalmatia by 1900, and by 1921 only half of those aged 10 years and over were illiterate. However, although most of the larger villages had an elementary school by 1921, not every child could attend, much less advance to higher levels of learning. Among families living on the margins of subsistence, it was taken for granted that a child was a productive worker by age seven.

Against this background, the breadth and quality of Croatian print culture in New Zealand has been remarkable. For the purpose of this review attention will be focused upon: (a) newspapers, published 1899-1949; (b) poetry and fiction; and (c) other literature. Excluded from the latter category are posters, pamphlets, handbills and a range of 'grey material' printed in either Croatian or a mixture of English and Croatian by clubs in Auckland, Dargaville, Kaitaia, Whangarei, Hamilton and Wellington. An extensive collection of this material, produced to record or announce various activities and issues of interest to members of voluntary associations, is held by S.A. Jelicich (S.A.J.) the co-author of this study, as are (unless stated otherwise) copies of the newspapers and other literature identified in this review.


For newspapers, two distinct periods can be identified. During the first period (1899-1919) nine newspapers were published, the known details of which are as follows:

Bratska Sloga (Brotherly Unity), Auckland; proprietor Ante Bulat; editor Matthew Ferri; four issues, 15 May-26 June 1899, published in both Croatian and English (copies Alexander Turnbull Library and S.A.J.)

Danica (Morning Star), Auckland; proprietors Ivan Segetin, Ivan Pavlinovich and Baldo Marusich; editor Ivan Segetin; number of issues unknown, published over nine months, 1899 (no known holdings)

Hrvatsko Glasilo (Croatian Herald), Auckland; proprietor and editor Peter Luksich; six to eight issues, 1903 (no known holdings)

Napredak (Progress), Auckland; proprietor British and Austrian Newspaper Co.; editor Matthew Ferri; published 1906-1909 (copies, two bound volumes, Auckland Public Library)

Hrvatsko Trubilo (Croatian Bugle), Kaitaia; proprietor unknown; editor Anton Sulenta; number of issues unknown, published 1908 (no known holdings)

Glas Istine (The Voice of Truth), Dargaville; proprietors and editors Tony Suvaljko and Grgo Ravlich; number of issues unknown, published 1908-10 (no known holdings)

Sloga (Unity), Auckland; proprietor and editor Tony Suvaljko; estimated 20 issues, published 1912-1913 (one copy held, issue no.19 (18 October 1912), S.A.J.)

Zora (Dawn) and (from May 1916) Zora, The Dawn, The Southern Slav Bulletin, Auckland; proprietor Croatian Publishing Co. Ltd; editors George Scansie, Bartul Mihaljevich, Andrew Frankovich and John Petricevich; numerous issues, partly in English, published August 1913-January 1917 (holdings Auckland Museum Library, S.A.J. and other private collections)

Novi Svjet (New World), Auckland; proprietor and editor Matthew Ferri; number of issues unclear, one or more in English, published 1919 (holdings, one copy, S.A.J.)

Until 1921 the vast majority of the Croatians were scattered over the Northland and Auckland regions, with over 80% classified as rural dwellers (typically young males engaged in gum-digging, though a shift onto farms, orchards and vineyards was well under way) while the bulk of the remainder lived and worked in Auckland city. Such a population, mobile, unskilled and hard-working, explains in part the short-lived existence of most of these newspapers; even Napredak and Zora, the two most successful ventures which had roving agents appointed to sell subscriptions and gather news, had only 500-600 subscribers. More important, however, were the personalities of the proprietors and/or editors, their 'missions' and the often intense rivalry or hostility between them. Matthew Ferri, for example, probably lost readers for reasons which included: the use of too much English (in Bratska Sloga); content that identified him as an Austrophile rather than a clear-cut Croat patriot; pressing too hard with a message on the virtue of permanent settlement (out of step with the aspirations of sojourners working as gum-diggers); and his scathing attacks on rivals Ivan Segetin (Danica) and Tony Suvaljko (Glas Istine), as well as items (in Napredak) on various 'enemies of the people' such as Auckland boarding-house keepers. Ferri was not unique. Even Zora, distinguished by its wartime anti-Austrian, pro-Croat and pro-South Slav union (i.e. Yugoslav) stance, was marred by its editorial attacks on so-called 'enemies' with opposing views, not to mention the presentation of too much content in English in the later stages.

The second period of newspaper publication (1920-49) was one of rather less activity, perhaps because of the Depression years. There were four papers, the details of which were as follows:

Jedinstvo (Unity), Auckland; proprietor and editor Joseph Alach; number of issues unknown, published 1942 (holdings, two copies, S.A.J.)

The United Front, Auckland; proprietor the Slavonic Council; editor Bohuslav Pospisil; published monthly, 23 January 1942-10 July 1943, much in English (holdings, copies of some pages S.A.J. and also the Totich papers)

Slavenski Glasnik (Slav Herald), Auckland; proprietor All Slav Union; no regular editor; number of issues unknown, irregular publication 1943-49, some issues with substantial sections in English (holdings, three copies S.A.J.)

Vjesnik (Messenger), Auckland; proprietor and editor Joseph Alach; number of issues unknown, published irregularly 1946 (no known holdings)

Clearly World War II was a significant stimulus. The United Front (ed. Pospisil, a Czechoslovak) was the official organ of the Slavonic Council that included representatives from the various Yugoslav (Croatian) clubs, as well as Czechoslovak, Russian and Polish representatives. It promoted Slav unity in New Zealand, cooperation with Slavonic organisations abroad, support for the Allied cause and loyalty to New Zealand. Following the withdrawal of the Russian and Polish representatives, who were at loggerheads with each other, the Slavonic Council became the All Slav Union, in essence a Yugoslav (Croatian) dominated body. The patriotic activities and interests of this new organisation were recorded in Slavenski Glasnik, which was primarily directed toward Yugoslav (Croatian) readers. Like the two papers edited by Joseph Alach, Slavenski Glasnik had a definite left-wing orientation.

Poetry and fiction

Works of poetry and fiction, published over the years 1906-86, represent a second major facet of New Zealand's Croatian print culture. Details of these items, two of which were printed and published abroad, are as follows:

Amelia Batistich, Pjevaj Vilo u planini (Sing Vila in the mountain), Zagreb: Matica Iseljenika Hrvatske, 1981 (widely distributed, copies held by S.A.J. and others); English language edition Auckland, Hodder and Stoughton, 1987)

Ante Kosović, Dalmatinac iz tudjine (From a Dalmatian in exile), Split, The Author, 1908 (copies held by: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington; S.A.J. and others)

——, Uskrsnuće Jugoslavije (Resurrection of Yugoslavia), Auckland, The Author, 1920 (copies held by S.A.J. and others)

——, Dalmatinci diskusiraju formu konja prija utrke (Dalmatians discussing the form of horses before the races), Auckland, The Author, 1946 (copy held by S.A.J.)

——, Uskrsnuće Slavena (Resurrection of the Slavs), Auckland, The Author, 1947 (copies held by S.A.J. and others)

Ante Pucar-Ribičić, Pjesme sa Pacifika (Poems from the Pacific), Auckland, The Author, 1915 (copy held by S.A.J.)

Mato Štula, Od Novi Zeland domovini (From New Zealand to the homeland), Auckland: the author, 1906 (copies held by the Stula family and S.A.J.)

Slavko Zarnić, Rastanak (The parting), Auckland, The Author, 1986 (widely distributed, copies held by A.D. Trlin and others)

Amelia Batistich is the exception in this collection—a woman, New Zealand-born and a short story writer (rather than a poet) whose first novel (Pjevaj Vilo u planini) was completed late in her literary career. Written in English, translated and published in Zagreb by Matica Iseljenika Hrvatske (a state-funded organisation that worked to maintain contacts between Croatia, the émigrés and their descendants), this novel was the first in a new library of emigrant writings. Incorporating a marked autobiographical element, it deals with a Dalmatian family in Dargaville in the 1920s as seen through the eyes of Stella, one of the family's three New Zealand-born children. Here, as in her numerous short stories, all written in English, Batistich captures the nostalgia of immigrants, the hardships encountered and adjustments made by newcomers to these shores, and the many facets of their lives and relationships.

Among the poets, each dealing with one or more themes common among emigrants—the pain of separation from loved ones (e.g. Zarnić's Rastanak), a longing for the homeland, experiences abroad (e.g. Štula's Od Novi Zeland domovini)—Ante Kosović was the most accomplished. Of the four volumes listed, the two published in 1920 and 1947 are long epic poems that mark national resurrection after World War I and II respectively, while Dalmatinci diskusiraju formu konja . . . (1946) is a clever, humorous picture of the Dalmatians' love of horse racing, the inevitable betting and their mixed Croatian-English speech. The best known work of Kosović (thanks to the inclusion of an adapted extract in English in Wedde and McQueen's Penguin Book of New Zealand Verse (1985) is his Dalmatinac iz tudjine. Addressed to the youth of Dalmatia, he warns them against coming to this faraway land with his moving accounts of homesickness, suffering and prejudice on the gumfields, and the fate of young migrants.

Other literature

Two other publications of interest are:

George Scansie, Hrvatska božićna rućna knjižica (Croatian Christmas Handbook), Auckland, Croatian Publishing Co., 1915 (copies held by S.A.J. and others)

Ivan Čizmić, Iz Dalmacije u Novi Zeland (From Dalmatia to New Zealand), Zagreb, Globus, Matica Iseljenika Hrvatske, 1981 (widely distributed, copies held by S.A.J. and others)

The handbook by Scansie includes a Christmas message, reflections and statistics on the war in Europe, and facts about New Zealand—material of interest to his Croatian readers. Čizmić's book is a history of Yugoslav (Croatian) settlement in New Zealand, as seen by a contemporary Yugoslav historian, that gives particular attention to political and social activities of the immigrants both within New Zealand and in relation to their homeland. His sources were mainly New Zealand (Croatian) and Yugoslav newspapers, as well as material from the archive of the Zavod za Migracije i Narodnosti (Institute for Migration and Nationalities) in Zagreb. For Croatian-language readers it is a valuable alternative to Andrew Trlin's Now Respected, Once Despised: Yugoslavs in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, 1979.

Imported Croatian print material such as Ante Kosović's first volume of poetry, Amelia Batistich's novel and Čizmić's history of settlement, is by no means rare. On the bookshelves of Croatian households, especially in Auckland, one may often find a Croatian-English dictionary, an atlas, tourist books (some wholly or partly in English) on Dalmatia and other more demanding texts on Croatian history and culture. Croatian newspapers from the homeland, Australia and the United States continue to meet the needs and interests of some Croatian-born readers, as do the monthly magazine Matica (Motherland) and the Hrvatski iseljenički zbornik (Croatian Emigrant Yearbook)—the latter previously titled Iseljenički kalendar (Emigrant Calendar)—both published in Zagreb by the new (post-1990) Hrvatska Matica Iseljenika organisation. The two latter publications occasionally include some items on (and by) New Zealand residents, but unless the items are in English they are typically beyond the reading skills of those born in New Zealand of Croatian descent. The latter group does, however, create a market for courses and material geared to the learning of Croatian. At the University of Auckland, for example, a Croatian language course has been successfully offered since 1976 by Associate Professor Hans-Peter Stoffel. Without a locally-produced text, this course has relied on texts produced in Croatia.

Coupled with less formal language classes offered by the Croatian Cultural Society and the Dalmatian Cultural Society in Auckland, the continuing popularity of the course at the University of Auckland, though obviously not in the same league as the nationwide teaching of other European or Asian languages, suggests a continuing future for Croatian print culture. Nevertheless, it is clear from the evidence presented in this review that Croatian immigrants made their most significant contributions to print culture in New Zealand during the first half of the 20th century.