I was in Foxton last weekend for the opening of Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom, the new library/community centre/museum in an old Mitre 10 redesigned by Pete Bosley (the designer of Te Papa).

Clipped on to the library are two museum spaces, side-by-side, telling the histories of the Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga iwi and the Dutch immigrants to "Nieuw Zeeland".

Te Ururoa Flavell, Shane Jones, Kelvin Davis, Nathan Guy and Ian McKelvie were there and the Dutch ambassador delivered a letter from his King, Willem Alexander. Dutch TV sent a crew of two and a waka crew from Leiden were there.

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I didn't expect to be as moved as I was to hear my mother tongue spoken in public, and to hear "Ngā Tātimana" ("The Dutch") being referred to - this was one of those rare occasions when it was useful to speak three languages.

"Immigrants cannot escape their history any more than you yourself can lose your shadow," read a quote on a wall and it made me remember my parents and their journey here.

"Being born in a depression and growing up during the war in an occupied country ... it wasn't all roses and sunshine that brought us to New Zealand," summed up their story.

My father had spent the war in hiding to avoid going to a work camp in Germany, as many had, but it didn't stop him meeting my mother. A handful of small black-and-white photos record their brief stay in "Batavia" (Jakarta).

My grandfather, who had been in the Japanese camp in Bandung (Java), said to my father: "I hear the prospects for agriculture are good in New Zealand."

My father found sponsors on a dairy farm in Woodville, bought black-market tickets on an Australian Airforce plane returning home and they then took a ship across the Tasman. I was born here in 1948.

They got here under their own steam; most post-war Dutch immigrants arrived as assisted immigrants in the 1950s. They worked hard and they fitted in.

The Dutch talk about sometimes feeling invisible in Aotearoa but our histories here go back nearly four centuries to when the crews of the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen tacked up the west coast off Foxton, four men short after the first recorded encounter between Europeans and Māori in Murderers Bay, and not knowing if there were reefs or sandbars ahead.


On my mother's side we are reputed to descend from one Francois Caron who was born in 1600 in Brussels.

In 1612 he fled to the Netherlands when the Catholics were slaughtering the Protestants in Flanders and signed up as a cook on a VOC ship going to "the Indies". He worked his way up the ranks becoming the upper-merchant in charge of the VOC "factory" on Hirado Island in Japan.

The VOC (United East-Indies Company) is reputed to be the world's first share-holder owned company.

In 1640, in Hirado arrived one Abel Tasman, who had just spent six months in the North Pacific looking for the mythical "Islands of Silver and Gold".

Also on Hirado at the time were Isaac Gilsemans and Francoijs Visser, the navigators and mapmakers on Tasman's 1642 voyage to Aotearoa and Tonga. At Hirado the VOC decided to check out the South Pacific next and Tasman decided that next time he wanted a better ship.

Around 1600 the Dutch had invented the telescope and developed its use in triangulation for map making. The Dutch ran smaller crews than the English, but fed them better, and they had mastered the art of oak shipbuilding and using hemp for rigging and sails, sailing on time regardless of weather.

At the end of the war with the Portuguese in the Indies, the VOC war-yacht the Heemskerck became available and the rest, as they say, is history.

Francois Caron went on trading in the east before dying at the age of 73 in a shipwreck off the coast of Portugal.

It had been an orange day. That evening I took my grandson Francis for a walk down to the beach. We threaded our way through the dune grasses and the orange gazanias glowing in the sunset.

For a link to Te Awahou Riverside Cultural Park go to: teawahou.com