Story: Hungarians

A decorative wooden gate (székely kapu), carved in Transylvania, stands at the entrance of Wellington’s Hungarian park. It celebrates Hungary’s presence in New Zealand and the friendship that has developed between the two countries.

Story by Ann Beaglehole
Main image: Louis Somogyváry , who escaped from Hungary in 1956

Story summary

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Immigration before 1956

There were few early Hungarian immigrants; those who did come were most often temporary visitors.

In 1849, Hungary was defeated in its war for independence from Austria – thousands fled, a few to New Zealand. The 1860s gold rush saw some plucky prospectors try their luck on the West Coast. In the first decades of the 20th century, 100 labourers settled in Southland, where they grew crops and raised livestock. A few Hungarian Jews sought refuge in the years before the Second World War, and other displaced persons came after the war to escape Hungary’s Communist regime.

The refugees of 1956-1959

In Hungary in 1956 there was an uprising against communism. It failed, however, and 200,000 were made refugees. Over 1,000 were granted refuge in New Zealand. Adapting to a new life was not easy. The Department of Labour organised English-language training and assistance with accommodation and employment. The plentiful supply of jobs at this time smoothed the settling-in process.

Hungarian culture

Many immigrants married non-Hungarians, which led to their rapid integration into Kiwi culture. But it also led to a loss of their own language and culture. Some national clubs were established to provide friendship and organise activities. Particularly popular when the refugees arrived in the late 1950s, most clubs had died out by the 1970s. But a revival of interest in the 1980s has meant that today, Hungarian culture has a presence in New Zealand.

How to cite this page:

Ann Beaglehole, 'Hungarians', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Ann Beaglehole, published 8 February 2005, updated 25 March 2015