As the gumfields became depleted, a desire to settle emerged. Rural labouring enabled the gum diggers to purchase small scrubby plots – often damaged by holes from gum digging – with clay piled over topsoil. Early Waiharara settler Mrs Vica Srhoj recalled a visit by the minister of lands: ‘He said the land was worthless and advised us and others not to waste our time. He was wrong.’ 1
Settlement increased in the early 1900s. Turiwiri West Road near Dargaville was commonly known as ‘Dally-Alley’. Monday to Saturday, farmers rose early and seldom returned home before sundown. On special occasions mutton and spare ribs were roasted on spits – basted with the padded end of a mānuka branch soaked in olive oil, mint and spices, and washed down with home-made wine.
Lacking capital to buy farms, some Dalmatians reverted to traditional skills. They netted mullet on the Kaipara Harbour and opened a cannery at Batley in 1896. Thirty years later on the Waitematā Harbour they introduced seine netting from new types of trawlers. Many fishing companies, such as Talley’s (founded in 1936 by Ivan Talijancich in Motueka), are Dalmatian in origin.
Restaurants and fish shops became popular family businesses in Auckland and Wellington. Many Dalmatians still worked in family groups, whether in a Henderson vineyard or a Mt Wellington quarry.
In the late 1890s Dalmatians were growing grapes at Herekino. By 1906, 14 vineyards were producing 2,000 gallons of wine annually. The three Frankovich brothers planted vines on the Whangaparāoa Peninsula in 1899. Naturalisation papers from the early 1900s listed ‘vintager’ among Dalmatians’ occupations. Disciples of the temperance movement disapproved, and early vintages, mainly fortified wine, were dubbed ‘vile Austrian wine’ and ‘Dally-plonk’.
The demon drink
Prime Minister W. F. Massey was not enamoured of winemakers, and passed a bill in 1914, licensing winemakers and placing restrictions on how much they could sell. In Parliament he had the following to say on ‘Austrian wine’:
‘I have never seen the stuff, but I believe it to be one of the vilest decoctions which can possibly be imagined. … it is a degrading, demoralising and sometimes maddening drink … there has been loss of lives attributed … to the use of Austrian wine as a beverage.’ 2
Small farms with vineyards and orchards also emerged in west Auckland. Today the founders’ names read like a who’s who of New Zealand wine – Babich (1919), Selak (1934), Yukich (Montana Wines, 1944), Nobilo (1943) and Delegat (1947). By the mid-1950s, the majority of the 80 vineyards were operated by Yugoslavs or their descendants. Such names as Vella, Marinovich and Sunde are similarly renowned in the fruit-growing regions of Oratia and Henderson.
Dalmatians replaced hybrid grapes with single varieties that produced higher quality wines. They also helped form the Viticulture Association, which lobbied successive governments to deregulate the wine industry. Winemaker George Mazuran’s idea – an annual field day for politicians – became an institution, and by the mid-1950s the government was reducing red tape. The wine industry boomed.
Urbanisation brought greater assimilation, but government attitudes were slow to change. In 1926 the government introduced an upper limit of 3,500 Yugoslavs, after which only wives, fiancées and young children could be admitted. Dalmatians continued to come, although many were now proxy brides destined to marry men seen only in photographs.