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



Polish belongs to the family of Slavonic languages. A number of immigrant groups in New Zealand speak languages belonging to this family—for Croatian see the section earlier in this chapter. Slavonic languages generally are not international languages like French or German, and this makes a huge difference to their print culture. For obvious political and historical reasons Russian is the most important of Slavonic languages, and it is the one commonly taught in New Zealand universities. In the last 20 years there have been efforts to establish Polish as a school and university subject, but without success. However, because of the tragic history of the Polish homeland since the 18th century, a Polish print culture has long been established abroad wherever Poles have settled as migrants and refugees. New Zealand is no exception to this pattern.

In New Zealand writing, printing and reading in Polish is limited to the circle of Polish-speaking immigrants and their families. The language's association with a relatively small immigrant population and their particular interests has a great deal of bearing on the type of Polish material found in New Zealand. This essay deals mostly with the type of printed matter that Poles have produced here, not with material that they brought with them or later imported.

Polish immigration to New Zealand has occurred in several distinct phases related primarily to political and economic conditions at home. First, like some other European immigrant groups to New Zealand, Poles were assisted to settle here in the 1870s to work on public works schemes. They formed settlements in Taranaki, the Manawatū, and the Wairarapa, at Marshlands and on the Taieri. Very little historical information exists on these early settlements, but the people were probably of peasant origin. It is difficult to gauge the level of literacy in these communities and the resources they may have had to print their own material. If they could read they may have brought only a few books with them, primarily religious texts such as prayer books.

The second major wave of Polish migrants was part of the massive displacement of Europe's population as a result of World War II. Those who finally landed in New Zealand came by various routes. Often forced from Poland by the war and the Nazi and Soviet occupations, all found themselves at the war's end outside the newly-established post-war boundaries of Poland. After the Yalta conference of 1945, when Poland became part of the Soviet sphere of influence, many chose not to return to a land controlled by a communist state. All shared a sense of exile and a longing for a return to a free and independent Poland. Much of what they wrote and printed here was devoted to this cause.

First to arrive were the 'Polish Children', refugees from the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, who had been banished to camps in the eastern USSR. When the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941, the Poles were released from their imprisonment and some, including the 'Children' reached Persia (Iran) and later, in 1944, were invited to New Zealand. It was anticipated that the 'Children' would return to Poland at the end of the war. To this end they were educated entirely in Polish according to a Polish syllabus and curriculum. Of course 1944 was only a year before the end of the war; however Pāhiatua camp where they were housed remained in operation until 1949. The 'Polish Children' have been a significant group in the history of Polish immigration to New Zealand. Their education in Polish and the promotion of Polish patriotism in their early years has had important consequences for the retention and continued use of their mother tongue not only among themselves, but also their children.

One of the Polish teachers who came with the 'Children', — Krystyna Skwarko, wrote an account of their 'story' Osiedlienie młodziezy polskiej w Nowej Zelandii w roku 1944 (translated and published in English as The Invited). The book was published with the help of the Polish Historical Society in Adelaide, although the author lived in Hamilton.

The printed legacy of the Polish Children's Camp in Pāhiatua has found its way into New Zealand archives and libraries. The camp files from the administration were finally deposited in the National Archives. A significant proportion of those documents were written in Polish because the Polish schools were run by Poles. Printed material such as grammars, dictionaries and histories, which helped New Zealanders to learn about Poles and Poland, had to be imported. This meant that good collections of Polish books were formed at the General Assembly Library and the Victoria University of Wellington Library.

The Polish post-war émigrés, ex-servicemen connected to the 'Children' and displaced persons, formed an association in Wellington in the 1950s which published a newsletter, Wiadomości Polskie, which continues in print to this day. Polish language has been a symbol of Polish national identity since the 19th century, and maintaining the language has always been an important aspect of the life of the Polish Association. Initially Wiadomości Polskie was published entirely in Polish, but today there is material in English. In the early life of the Association, it also published several year books (1951-55). Included in these were reprints of classic Polish history and literary texts as well as original articles written by Poles in Wellington.

Over the years the Polish Association has been involved with other publications through subgroups of its membership. For the 40th anniversary of the deportation of Poles to the Soviet Union, the Międzyorganizacyjny Komitet Obchodu Czterdziestej Rocznicy Deportacji do ZSRR (a committee specially set up to organise commemoration activities for this anniversary) published Polacy w Nowej Zelandii: Wspomnienia deportacji do ZSRR, 1940-80, w czterdziestą rocznicę (Poles in New Zealand: Memoirs of the Deportation to the USSR,1940-80, on the Fortieth Anniversary). The book includes a collection of memoirs by survivors as well as reprinted material by established authorities on the history of the deportation. It is printed entirely in Polish.

More recently the Polish Women's League (Koło Polek) have published their own set of memoirs, Wiązanka myśli i wspomnień (A Bouquet of Thoughts and Reminiscences). Every member of the League was encouraged to contribute something, original or not, to the volume—a cherished poem or prayer was also acceptable. This volume also documents the work of the League from 1965-91. Every piece is published both in Polish and English.

Other activities of the Polish Association include the Saturday schools for teaching children Polish. The schools are organised by a Parents' Committee. Dorota Gibbs, one of the parents and teachers at one Saturday school, herself a second generation Pole with New Zealand teacher training, produced a Polish primer called Moja pierwsza czytanka (My First Reader) in 1983. The text was tailored to her particular classes where children of mixed Polish and English speaking parents learnt Polish with their parents in the classroom.

The most recent wave of Polish immigrants arrived from the 1980s onwards either from camps (in Austria) or directly from Poland. They have generated another body of publications. Klub Polski (NZ) Inc., based in Auckland, began publishing a newsletter, Kraj (Country) in 1992. From 1994 onwards it was published by Polska Oficyna Wydawnica 'Kraj' (Polish Printing House 'Kraj'), but publication ceased in 1996. This newsletter, printed entirely in Polish, initially covered the political situation in Poland, but then became more focussed on Poles in New Zealand. The last editor of Kraj, Roman Antoszewski, published Zbiór wiadomości niezwykłych, szokujących, mądrych . . . choć nie zawsze . . . (Collection of Data: Unusual, Shocking, Sagacious . . . Albeit Not Always . . .). Another publication, a bimonthly newsletter, also based in Auckland, Solidarność na Antypodach (Solidarity in the Antipodes), began publishing in 1984 and has continued ever since. These two are likewise focused on political issues affecting Poland. The latter also has articles in English, intended to inform English-speaking readers about Poland.

The printing of newspapers and journals has been especially important to the Polish diaspora since the great emigrations of the 19th century. Much of this printed material hinges on political debate about Poland and its destiny. This debate has been very lively in the post-war period especially during periods of political unrest in Poland. Much Polish material printed in New Zealand belongs in this category. A second important category of printed material is memoirs. Memoir-writing among Poles has been fuelled by W.I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki's famous study of The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918-21); so much so that memoir writing is now well recognised as a research tool in Poland and abroad. Other sorts of publication include the unusual Teoria magnokraftu (Theory of Magnocraft) published in 1986 by the author, Jan Pająk, a Polish engineer who lives in Invercargill.

The Poles in New Zealand are a small community seemingly isolated for long periods from their beloved Polska. Isolated or not, their activities in print belong to the flow of literature generated by the Polish diaspora.