In 1911 the birthplace of 2,131 people living in New Zealand was given as Austria-Hungary. Today most of these people would be regarded as being born in Yugoslavia. In fact they came principally from Dalmatia, an area on the eastern Adriatic Coast, and though they are really Croats, a name they prefer, they are often called Dalmatians. The first seem to have arrived more than a century ago. There were Dalmatians aboard the Austrian ship Novara, who were impressed by the country and its people. More arrived during the eighties, mainly peasants and fishermen forced from their homeland by the shortage of land and a desire to escape conscription by the Austrians. At first they found work farming or digging for kauri gum in North Auckland, a land very similar to that of their birth. In digging they worked methodically in gangs and when the gum digging failed they bought land which was regarded as being of little value and developed it. The Dalmatian proved a good pioneer and has made a success of farming.
About half the Yugoslavs today are in rural occupations, principally dairying and on small farms, vineyards, orchards, and market gardens. The restaurant business provides the main urban occupation, but in Auckland City they follow a wider range of employments. Some have had a university education and entered a profession. Yugoslavs are found mainly in the Auckland Province, particularly the North Auckland Peninsula, though of recent years they have spread south.
It has been estimated that today there are about 6,000 Yugoslavs or New Zealanders of Yugoslav descent. In 1878 there were about 500 Austro-Hungarians. The main increase came in the nineties; in 1901 there were 1,874, and in 1911, 2,131. At the last census (1956) there were 3,143 born in Yugoslavia.
Some Yugoslav families have reached their second New Zealand born generation, but they are still a problem as their assimilation is not easy. This has been partly due to the feelings of loyalty to the Slav people and partly to the feeling that any government, but particularly one controlled by aliens, is an unnecessary evil. Shortly after the Second World War Yugoslavs overseas were asked to return home. Less than 300 left New Zealand, though many who remained made the decision reluctantly. The war record of the New Zealand Yugoslavs was not good. Some, often of New Zealand birth, volunteered and served with distinction. The majority strongly resisted attempts to conscript them and, though Yugoslavia was an ally and volunteers were requested by the Consul, none came forward. It will take time for the Yugoslav to have the same fundamental feelings and outlook as the British New Zealander.