Dalmatians got on very well with Māori of the far north – Te Aupouri, Te Rarawa, Ngāti Kahu and Ngāti Kurī, who dubbed them ‘tarara’ – ‘fast talkers’. Some intermarriage occurred, producing some significant figures such as Dame Mira Szászy, who was president of the Māori Women’s Welfare League. A few Māori even learnt to play the Croatian national folk instrument, the tamburica.
Of a Sunday on the gumfields men gathered for religious observance. The women who emigrated missed the Catholic festivals of their homeland. Writer Amelia Batistich recalled her mother believing that ‘there were no Sundays in New Zealand’. In the 1930s, on Kuma Martinovich’s first Sunday in Te Kopuru she asked her husband, ‘Where are the bells?’ His reply: ‘Only bells you will hear here are cowbells’. 1
Nine Croatian-language newspapers were published between 1899 and 1919. Urbanisation fostered the development of clubs, which became important meeting places and avenues for keeping alive customs such as kola dancing. Successful clubs were formed in Auckland, Dargaville and Wellington in the 1930s.
Unlike some immigrant groups, the Dalmatians married within their community for generations, helping to preserve culture and language. But sometimes families would anglicise their surnames, as Kiwis had trouble pronouncing them.
Some Dalmatians are keen bowls players. National title winner Nick Unkovich is not so far removed from the gum diggers and their Sunday games with baked mud-balls.
Dalmatians and others from the former Yugoslavia are proud of their heritage. Their hard-working attitude and contribution to the country is well recognised, especially in Northland and Auckland, where the term ‘Dally’ is now one of affection.