Story: Italians

Page 4. 1940s–present day

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Although the numbers of Italians have never been great, after the Second World War these characteristically hard-working and enterprising people continued to settle in New Zealand, which, as a 19th-century promoter of immigration put it, ‘bears a striking resemblance to … Italy, turned upside down with the foot end facing up’. 1


Families moved along the migration chains, with more women and children arriving. Immediately after the war, a small number of women arrived as brides of New Zealand soldiers.

In 1951, 130 refugees, many from provinces ceded to Yugoslavia, came as displaced persons. Some worked in forestry, but most moved to the cities.

Because of their reputation as miners and tunnellers, a large group of northern Italian men was brought out in the 1960s on contract to hydroelectric projects at Manapōuri and Tūrangi. Two-thirds of the Tūrangi contingent married New Zealanders, but many returned home in 1982.

Since the 1970s, arrivals have become spasmodic. Only 312 Italians came between 1992 and 1998, and in 2006 the number of Italian-born residents (1,539) was only slightly more than in 1961 (1,427). By 2013 the number had risen to 1,968.


New wording in the 1996 census allowed people to identify with one or more ethnic groups. Those responding as ‘Italian’ increased dramatically from 1991: from 1,539 to 4,911. By 2013 this had dropped to 3,795.


Italians no longer work in agriculture or fishing as they did before the First World War. Changes made to immigration policy in 1987 offered opportunities for Italians to set up businesses. By 2001, 59% were working as managers, professionals or technicians. Italian-born women have moved away from traditional roles, with a higher than average number working in management and business services.


In 2013 most Italian immigrants were living in the main urban centres, with well over half in Auckland or Wellington.

  1. Quoted in Tessa Duder, In search of Elisa Marchetti. Auckland: Penguin, 2002, p. 162. › Back
How to cite this page:

Tessa Copland, 'Italians - 1940s–present day', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 8 August 2022)

Story by Tessa Copland, published 8 Feb 2005, updated 1 Mar 2015