In the 20th century Polish settlement was predominantly urban, but before the 1940s there were no Polish immigrant associations.
The Polish Association in New Zealand was established in 1948 in Wellington. Those who founded it saw themselves as an exile community fighting for a free and independent Poland so that they could return home. Their association was geared toward charitable works for their community. At the same time they kept their language and customs alive, and passed them on to their children.
Still strong after 100 years
In the early 1970s, a Polish scholar, Dr Jerzy Pobóg-Jaworowski, visited Taranaki to research the history of the settlers from his homeland. His visit sparked a revival of interest in Polish family history in the region. Plans were made for a centennial celebration in 1976. The organisers expected about 40 people to attend but ended up with 1,800!
There are now similar associations around New Zealand. The teaching of the Polish language at Auckland University is supported by the community and the Polish Heritage Trust. The trust also has a museum and library in Howick.
The Catholic Church
Catholicism has been an important focus of Polish community life. Although there is no exclusively Polish parish, the Wellington Polish Association has maintained a Polish priest attached to St Anne’s Church in Newtown. The visit of the Polish Pope to New Zealand in 1986 was of great importance to the community.
Future for Polish migration
Once they had arrived in New Zealand, the 19th- and 20th-century immigrants had little choice but to settle permanently, as lack of money, and political restrictions in Poland, made it difficult for them to return. In the 21st century, Poles and Polish New Zealanders can move between the two countries more freely than at any other time, and choose where they wish to settle.