Considering the size of Indonesia’s population, relatively few of its people have chosen to settle in New Zealand. Among arrivals, there are three distinct groups: Dutch colonials, Indonesians (Javanese, Sundanese – Muslim people from West Java – and Sumatran) and Chinese Indonesians.
For centuries Indonesia was a Dutch colony, known as the Dutch East Indies. The 1921 census records 13 New Zealand residents born in the Dutch East Indies.
In the late 1940s the first of several waves of Dutch settlers arrived in New Zealand. The East Indies gained independence from the Netherlands in 1949, and became the Republic of Indonesia. During this period, most Dutch immigrants came from Indonesia, rather than the Netherlands.
By 1951 the Indonesian-born population in New Zealand numbered 303. Most of these immigrants, such as the artist Theo Schoon, were Dutch colonials.
By 1961 numbers of those born in Indonesia had grown to 1,317 and included non-Europeans. Some immigrants were students who had come to New Zealand under the Colombo Plan, or people who worked for the Indonesian Embassy in Wellington.
Chinese have lived in Indonesia for hundreds of years. Their success as businesspeople made them targets of resentment in difficult times. Chinese Indonesians first came to New Zealand between 1967 and 1971 as the result of anti-Chinese feeling in Indonesia.
Rieke Graham came to Wellington from Indonesia in the 1960s as a student. Before returning to Indonesia alone, she secretly married a New Zealander. When her husband visited her in Indonesia, Rieke acted as translator between him and her parents. They married again in her country before returning to Wellington to raise a family. After nearly four decades in the antipodes Rieke still clung to her origins: ‘I always feel Indonesian, very much Indonesian’. 1
New Zealand’s Indonesian-born population grew only slightly during the 1970s and 1980s. It was not until the 1990s that there was a sizeable influx, mostly of Javanese, Sundanese and Sumatran migrants. A severe economic crisis in Indonesia in 1998, followed by civil unrest, contributed.
In 1998 some 1,500 Chinese Indonesians came to New Zealand, fleeing Indonesian riots. Around 800 overstayed their visas. Of these, two-thirds were granted residency, and the remaining third were sent home. Other Chinese Indonesian migrants included businesspeople who arrived during the 1990s in search of a more relaxed lifestyle. Many chose to live in the Auckland suburbs of Glenfield, Mt Roskill and Mt Eden.
Family reunification was an important reason for migrating, as was education. In 2013, 27.2% of residents with Indonesian ethnicity over the age of 15 were studying. Many young Indonesians came to New Zealand for short periods to study: in 2012 there were around 560 fee-paying students at educational institutions and another 50 on postgraduate scholarships to study renewable energy, agriculture, education and private-sector development.
Numbers of people in New Zealand born in Indonesia are typically higher than numbers of those claiming Indonesian ethnicity. In 2013, 4,914 people were born in Indonesia, but 4,137 identified their ethnicity as Indonesian. During the 1990s the population of ethnic Indonesians in New Zealand more than doubled – from 861 in 1991 to 2,073 in 2001. By 2013 the figure had doubled again. Most lived in the Auckland (60%), Wellington (15%) and Canterbury (8%) regions.