Dalmatia will be on display in Dargaville when a local cultural group celebrates the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the first settler from the former Balkan country.

Dalmatia and Yugoslavia, the homeland of waves of hard working, frugal migrants to New Zealand, do not exist today. Dalmatia and other parts of the former Yugoslavia are now in Croatia.

But descendants of early settlers have kept alive Dalmatian culture. Colourful kolo dancing, tambourine and accordion orchestras have been a big part of the New Zealand cultural landscape for generations.

The caption on this photogrpah said: A group of dirty but happy Austrian gumdiggers, circa 1890-1910.
The caption on this photogrpah said: A group of dirty but happy Austrian gumdiggers, circa 1890-1910.

Those traditional activities and the people's renowned hospitality will be on display next Saturday at Harding Park/Dargaville Museum when the Dargaville Dalmatian Cultural Club commemorates the 160th anniversary of the arrival of a man called Pavao Lupis.

Advertisement

The anniversary celebrations will be from 11am to 4.30pm on Saturday, November 10.

''We're welcoming all people and descendents from the former states of Yugoslavia,'' Frana Morgan-Coakle said.

''We're expecting quite a crowd. There will be lunch sittings for 360 people in a marquee, and dancing and other entertainment.''

Performances will include poetry readings, a choir, Kola dancing and tambouritsa music. Guests will include local dignitaries, Members of Parliament, historians and leaders from the New Zealand Yugoslav community.

While the lunch tickets are all sold, anyone is welcome to the occasion, Morgan-Coakle said.

Free entry into the museum is available for the lunch ticket holders but others who pay to get in can also see displays featuring gumdigging and early Dalmatian settlement. The Harding Park complex includes a shanty town and other pioneer buildings.

The popular, unique gumwashing machine will be fired up by Dargaville Museum's president Nick Puharich for two demonstrations, at 1.45pm and 3.25pm.

Pavao Lupis was one of many Croatians and Dalmatians conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian empire's navy. He arrived in Auckland on December 22, 1859, on a ship that left Trieste on April 30, 1857, to cruise the South Pacific.

Lupis jumped ship and worked for a while in the Otago goldfields, eventually making his way north to work a different type of gold out of the earth, gum.

Other vessels from ''Austria'' followed soon after. In 1886, 536 people from Dalmatia came, 881 in 1896 and 2212 in 1906, all recorded as being Austrian.

After arriving in Auckland, most travelled north to Ruawai, Red Hill, Tatarariki, Pouto and the main gumfield at Aranga. Many went farther afield and settled in the Far North.

First came men — women would follow, not only with their families but many coming on "bride ships", for arranged marriages organised when lonely gumdiggers or labourers would send messages to their villages, asking for a wife.

Those early settlers have made their mark. Thrifty and enterprising, many returned home with hard earned savings gleaned from extracting gum from swamps or working in the forestry industry, but many stayed in the New World.