From 1945, a welcome was cautiously extended to small groups of migrants, both from the Netherlands and from the crumbling Dutch East Indies empire (now Indonesia). These first groups of arrivals impressed employers, setting the scene for mass immigration.
A homeland in ruins
After being occupied by the Germans during the war, the Netherlands struggled to reconstruct its ruined economy and society. High unemployment, housing shortages, and a baby boom increased the pressures. According to a 1947–48 survey, over one-third of the Dutch population contemplated emigration in the post-war period. Meanwhile the fight for independence in the Dutch colony of Indonesia spelled the end of a colonial empire that pre-dated Tasman. By 1949 a quarter of a million Dutch nationals living there needed new homes.
The Indonesian connection
Between 1945 and 1949, nearly 500 settlers came from war-torn Indonesia, and they continued to arrive after that. Some were displaced colonists; others were discharged soldiers from the Dutch army, recruited to stamp out the independence struggle that occurred between 1945 and 1949. New Zealand’s covert ‘whites only’ policy posed problems. People with ‘one Javanese great-grandmother’ stood to be excluded, even if they had lived in the Netherlands.
A policy of mutual convenience
In 1950 Wellington approached The Hague, asking whether it could obtain 2,000 skilled migrants. Carpenters, skilled labourers, and farm and domestic workers were high on the wanted list. It was a move based on pragmatic grounds, and both countries stood to gain from the arrangement. The need for workers was immediate. Even before the immigration agreement was signed in October, 55 Dutch dairy workers were selected. All the men took the long direct flight to Whenuapai, arriving just in time for the peak of the season.
The New Zealand Assisted Passage Scheme was extended to include a limited number of Dutch citizens with special skills. Candidates faced strict selection processes. About a quarter of the post-war Dutch settlers were subsidised in this way.
The door also opened that year to those willing to pay their own way, so long as they had a job and a place to live. Some even brought prefabricated houses with them. Within a few months, Dutch migrants came in by the thousand, mainly by sea.
The first wave
Who were the 1950s migrants? They were usually single males, with an average age of 25. Mostly lower middle-class burghers, they were ‘blue’ rather than ‘white’ collar workers. Two-thirds came from the densely populated and industrialised West Holland conurbation called the Randstad – bounded by Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Contrary to popular belief, only a small number worked in agriculture before coming.
Dutch churches helped promote migration, with an estimated half of all settlers being Roman Catholic. Most left home with little money, having sold possessions to pay for their passage. They were permitted to carry only minimal amounts of luggage, and arrived after five weeks living in crowded dormitories on ships like the Sibajak.
Ebb and flow
Demand for passages remained high during the 1950s. The peak years were between July 1951 and June 1954, when an intake of 10,583 settlers was recorded. Numbers dropped as the Dutch economy recovered.
By 1968, 28,366 immigrants born in Dutch territories had come to New Zealand, and 23,879 had settled. Almost half of all migrants from outside the Commonwealth were Dutch, making them by far the biggest single group of non-British immigrants to New Zealand at that time.