Dannevirke: Norwegian heritage celebrated

By Christine McKay -
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Pupils from Norsewood and Districts School demonstrate their traditional Scandinavian dancing. Pupils have been performing these dances for 49 years. Photo/Christine McKay
Pupils from Norsewood and Districts School demonstrate their traditional Scandinavian dancing. Pupils have been performing these dances for 49 years. Photo/Christine McKay

Norsewood was the sparkling jewel in Norway's crown on Sunday when people from around New Zealand celebrated 200 years of nationhood.

The traditional celebrations are held on the closest Sunday to May 17, to commemorate the day in 1814 when Norway signed its constitution.

Olaug Kingsley-Smith, her daughter Helene and grandson Espen, 4, travelled from Hamilton for the celebrations.

Mrs Kingsley-Smith came to live in New Zealand in 1976 and said gathering at Norsewood is an important link to her home country.

"May 17 is the day Norway became independent and free and we celebrate with pride," she said. Norsewood is the best place to be.

Her daughter Helene is looking forward to a trip back to Norway, but said she didn't want that to happen until she'd visited Norsewood.

"I'm a third-generation Norwegian and I'm wearing a silver chokker given to me by my grandmother."

"It was made by a poor silversmith just south of Krodsherad who was reputed to carry silver spoons in his pocket to sell."

Joining in the Norway Day celebrations were Gary Olsen and his wife Ngaire, formerly a Hansen. The couple now live in Taranaki, but Mr Olsen's ancestors sailed to New Zealand on the Hovding, while his wife's family came on the Ballarat.

This celebration is unique, Mr Olsen said. But part of what makes it special is the Norsewood people. This is certainly a vibrant culture.

Liz and Ian Bayliss agreed.

"You've got to take your hat off to those early settlers," Mr Bayliss said.

Odd Lie of Haumoana in the Hawke's Bay was also enjoying the celebrations, but has concerns about the future.

"I've been in New Zealand 45 years now, but go back to Norway frequently," he said. This day in Norsewood is fantastic but my concern is whether people will be able to keep it up.

Aucklander's Leif Larsen and Karin Bieck have only been in New Zealand for a couple of years and this was their first time at the celebrations.

We wanted to come to Norsewood and decided this day would be the best time, Mr Larsen said. Its a connection to our culture and there's no other day we can celebrate and be with people who understand the significance of Norway Day.

There are just two days a year when we miss Norway, Christmas Eve and Norway Day. We've found Norsewood quite interesting and are fascinated to learn about those early settlers who arrived in 1872 and 1873 and how they must have felt.

After a service in the replica Stave Church at Johanna's World, visitors, including Graeme Mitchell, New Zealand's Honorary Consul General for Norway, paraded down Norsewood's main street to the pioneer memorial alongside the historic oak tree.

Norsewood's Rose Waterworth spoke about the significance of the Norsewood community which was founded in 1872.

"What creates a community?" she asked. "It's attitude which makes the difference. For our early pioneers it was a case of dig in or die. They went into the wilderness with one axe and one spade to nine men."

Conditions were harsh and with disease rife, including measles, typhoid and diphtheria, the cemetery at Norsewood was running out of room.

"And if children strayed into the bush they would be lost and never seen again," Rose said. The 1880s were the hardest and bleakest years in Norsewoods history. But it was the attitude of the pioneers which was so important. They had a strong faith, a sense of humour, determination, compassion, a vision for the future, were humble and had to the ability to recognise issues and resolve them.

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