Populate or perish
The Labour government’s opposition to assisting immigrants was never universally shared. Even in the depression, isolated voices such as the immigration activist A. E. Mander claimed that New Zealand must populate or perish. Employers and manufacturers in the Dominion Settlement and Population Association stressed the problems of a declining birth rate, the levels of out-migration and the need for skilled workers and a larger market. The war raised concerns about the need for a large population for national defence. However, the government preferred to emphasise natural increase, which they encouraged with the 'family benefit' allowance. Housing shortages were another obstacle to immigration.
The 1947 assistance scheme
The demand for skilled workers required a solution. In 1946 a few psychiatric nurses were brought out as assisted migrants, and in July 1947 a full assistance scheme began which, over the next 30 years, brought over 100,000 people to New Zealand. It differed in several ways from the earlier schemes:
- There was a preference for single people rather than families because of the housing shortage.
- The focus was not on farmers or domestic servants, but urban people with industrial skills.
- Immigrants were bonded for two years and given jobs, and initially housed in special barracks.
But there were also similarities with the past. Nomination by employers or friends was again introduced in 1948, provided the nominator could arrange accommodation. There was always a preference for the young – at first for those aged 20 to 35, extended to 45 in 1950. Above all, assistance went primarily to British citizens ‘of European race and colour’ 1.
Applying to emigrate
The immigrants were carefully chosen. Advertisements appeared in newspapers and trade journals, displays were set up at trade exhibitions, and a film, Journey for three, based on the experiences of three assisted migrants, was shown in British cinemas. The New Zealand High Commission in London interviewed applicants who brought along birth certificates and references, and when there was difficulty in filling quotas for particular skills, the deciding factor would be ‘the applicant’s bearing and the estimates of his character as a potential New Zealand citizen’. 2
Wide open spaces
New immigrants from Britain in the 1950s were often struck by the emptiness of New Zealand’s centres. One commented that in a New Zealand city at the weekend, ‘you could have shot a rifle in the street and you wouldn’t have hit anybody’. 3
The applicants had often met New Zealanders or had relatives there, and they came for a ‘better life’, usually perceived as a sunnier climate, a healthier lifestyle, and an egalitarian society. Some were disappointed. New Zealand, with its rugby obsession, regimented ‘six o’clock swill’ of beer at hotels, flimsy wooden houses, and social separation of the sexes, was more different than they had expected, and many encountered a surprising hostility to ‘Poms’ (the slightly derogatory term used for British immigrants).
Yet many became ardent New Zealanders who persuaded others to pay their own way out. By 1971 the number of English-born in New Zealand had risen by over 66,000 from 1945, but the number of Irish had actually fallen and the Scots had risen by fewer than 4,000.
A new meaning of home
One British immigrant described going back ‘home’ and suddenly feeling ‘desperately homesick for many things about New Zealand – the clean air, open spaces, relaxed friendly people, empty roads, native bush, fantails.’ 4
New Zealand also sought other western Europeans who might be easily assimilated. This included between 200 and 350 each from Austria, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Greece. Some Europeans arrived as refugees from unsuccessful revolts against Communism – 1,100 Hungarians after their revolution in 1956, and 125 Czechs following the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968.
The most favoured Europeans were the Dutch, because they seemed the most likely to be easily assimilated.
In 1950 an assisted passage scheme was extended to the Netherlands, to attract skilled migrants such as carpenters or domestic workers. Over 6,000 were eventually selected, the majority of them in 1952–54. The scheme attracted others, many from industrialised west Holland, and some from the former Dutch colony that was now Indonesia. By 1971 there were over 20,000 Dutch people scattered throughout the country, and they comprised by far the largest non-British migrant group.