Story: Greeks – the Hellenic community

Page 1. Arrivals

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Origins of migrants

Members of New Zealand’s Hellenic community (Greek-speaking people who usually belong to the Greek Orthodox Church) came from many places other than Greece, including Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, the former Yugoslavia and Russia. There were many reasons for emigrating to New Zealand – ‘the land on the edge of the world’, as they called it.

Arrivals before the Second World War

First arrivals in the 19th century were men, mostly bound for the goldfields. Many returned to Greece, but some stayed on. Between 1890 and 1914 more established themselves as fishermen, street hawkers, confectioners and restaurateurs in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin.

Those who were successful encouraged relatives and friends to join them. So chain migration began, from poverty-stricken Ithaca, Cephalonia, Acarnania and Lesbos to Wellington. By 1936 there were 82 Greek-born people living in Wellington. Immigrants from Ithaca and Cephalonia settled in New Plymouth, Feilding, Palmerston North, Dannevirke, Napier and Hastings in the North Island. They also went to Ashburton, Temuka, Timaru, Waimate and Ōamaru in the South Island.

Post-war immigration

After the Second World War dire economic and political conditions in Greece caused a surge in chain migration to New Zealand. Most immigrants settled in major towns and cities, especially Wellington. A few Greek women arrived as brides of returning New Zealand soldiers, and some people were sponsored to emigrate by New Zealand veterans of the Battle for Crete.

Wartime allies

During the Second World War a warm relationship was established between the Greek and New Zealand people. Greek civilians often risked their lives to assist New Zealand soldiers during the retreat from Greece in 1941 and during and after the disastrous Crete campaign. Since 1984 Wellington has had a sister-city relationship with Hania (the old capital of Crete) and celebrates Hania Day on 21 May. A Greek–New Zealand memorial in Cambridge Terrace was dedicated in 1995.

Many Greeks from Eastern Europe were made homeless as a result of war and Communist takeover. In 1951 New Zealand, as a member of the International Refugee Organisation, accepted over 1,000 Greek refugees. The men were sent to work in hydroelectric construction and heavy industry where there was a shortage of labour.

Recent immigration patterns

Greeks continued to come to New Zealand, through both chain migration and official immigration programmes. Between 1962 and 1964, 267 young women from Crete arrived on a scheme to provide domestic staff for hotels and hospitals. The invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974 led to a rise in Greek Cypriot arrivals. And in 1981, 50 Cretan families were invited to settle here as thanks for helping New Zealand soldiers during the Second World War.

Accurate numbers of Greek immigrants over time cannot be given, as their countries of origin are diverse, and detailed ethnicity statistics have only been available since 1991. In the 2013 census, however, 2,481 New Zealand residents claimed Greek ethnicity.

How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Greeks – the Hellenic community - Arrivals', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/greeks-the-hellenic-community/page-1 (accessed 15 November 2019)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 30 Mar 2015