Page 1: Biography
Labourer, political activist
This biography, written by Brian O'Brien, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Ivan Tomasevic was born on 10 March 1897 in Kosarnido, Croatia, then part of Austria–Hungary. He was the son of Antun Tomasevic, a farm labourer, and his wife, Ane Trobok. His early life is obscure, but he qualified as a nautical cadet in 1916 and joined the Serbian army in November 1918; he was discharged as a second lieutenant in May 1920.
In May 1921 Tomasevic sailed as a crew member for Bunbury, Western Australia, where he deserted ship and went to work in the bush at Kalgoorlie. His date of arrival in New Zealand is disputed. One story has it that he arrived illegally in June 1922, after an application for entry to the country had been denied; Tomasevic himself gave the date as May 1923.
Tomasevic worked as a kauri-gum digger at Waiharara, Northland, in 1923–24. In 1925 he had a spell at the Waitemata County Council quarry and worked on road construction in Mt Roskill, Auckland. He became a naturalised New Zealand citizen in September 1926 and married Gladys Moynihan (née Given), a widow with one daughter, at Auckland on 23 May 1927.
In the late 1920s Tomasevic became involved in the internal politics of Auckland's Yugoslav community. Men such as John Totich, the Yugoslav consul, supported the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) that had been established after the First World War. More-recent arrivals viewed the kingdom as a device to facilitate Serbian domination of Croatia. They, including Tomasevic, formed the short-lived left-wing Yugoslav Progressive Association in December 1925, and the Yugoslav Workers' Educational Club in December 1930, both opposed to the kingdom and its official representatives. The educational club was generally regarded as the Yugoslav section of the Communist Party of New Zealand. Tomasevic, a member of the New Zealand Workers' Union, belonged to the Communist Party and was active in recruitment among his fellow Yugoslavs. He distributed the party newspaper, the Red Worker, and was seen by the party as 'a good speaker at meetings'.
In April 1931 John Totich provided the police with a statement about Tomasevic's activities. He requested the assistance of the minister of internal affairs in stopping agitation against the Yugoslav government. The police referred to the Crown solicitor, A. E. Currie, a pamphlet entitled The swindle; Tomasevic had circulated this in protest against an amendment to the Unemployment Act 1930, which provided for a special tax to supply relief payments to the unemployed. Currie held that the pamphlet encouraged lawlessness and that membership of the Communist Party was prima facie evidence of disloyalty.
In October 1931 the under-secretary for internal affairs recommended that Tomasevic's naturalisation be revoked. The regulations to allow for this were finally approved in December 1932. It was, however, not until September 1933 that the case was heard in the Supreme Court before A. L. Herdman. The judge found that Tomasevic belonged to a society that distributed 'literature of a dangerous character' and concluded that the evidence 'justifies the inference that he is disaffected and disloyal'. The proposal to revoke his naturalisation led to the establishment of a Tomasevic Defence Committee by the Communist Party and union sympathisers. Expressions of protest came from New Zealand Labour Party branches, the Unemployed Workers' Movement and the Friends of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the naturalisation was revoked in November 1933. Tomasevic was not, however, deported.
In April 1936 the Labour government's minister of internal affairs, W. E. Parry, agreed to reconsider Tomasevic's naturalisation. On his application – made in June 1936 – Tomasevic stated that he was a labourer at a Remuera quarry and had spent two years on relief work and in casual employment. He had savings of less than £10 and owned no property or furniture. His application was successful.
Thereafter Ivan Tomasevic appears only fitfully in the historical record. In 1947 he asked whether it was possible to renounce his New Zealand citizenship and take up Yugoslav citizenship. He was president of a local Yugoslav association in 1948–49 and in June 1953 was still an active member of the Communist Party. He died, aged 91, at Auckland on 31 August 1988; Gladys Tomasevic had died in 1977. There were no surviving children.