A 'Dutchies' celebration

There's more to the Dutch than clogs, cheese, and windmills, and members of the Manawatu Dutch Club can vouch for that.

The club exists for some cultural companionship, general camaraderie and as a chance for Dutch people throughout the district to build a sense of belonging in a different country.

Officially the club is known as the New Zealand Netherlands Society Manawatu and Districts Inc, but, among friends, it's the Manawatu Dutch Club and members call themselves "Dutchies".

Maria-Tine Biersteker has been involved in the club for two years and joined to keep in touch with her heritage and practise her mother tongue.

"For me, it's all about the social side, the friendships, the cultural ties you share with one another and the language.

"It's nice to talk in Dutch and it's easier too, because it is your first language.

"It's understanding the same jokes, sharing the same background and, really, it provides a sense of nostalgia, which I think is important."

Palmerston North is home to thousands of Dutch descendants, she says, many of whom moved from the Netherlands in the 1950s, when the country was rebuilding itself from the destruction of World War II.

Mrs Biersteker moved from Zwolle, in northeast Netherlands, six years ago, in search of space and a fresh perspective.

"The one thing that I notice the most, when I go back to Holland, is the 'crowdy-ness' of my country.

"If you grow up in a country that is eight times smaller than New Zealand and with 16 million people, you have to fight a little harder to get somewhere in life because there's a lot of competition on the ladder to success."

As a self-confessed nature lover, New Zealand was the perfect spot to settle down, she says, but it was hard leaving her family for a new life down under.

"When I first came over I got advice from another Dutchie, who had been here for 25 years, to not go home for a while.

"Because if you go back and forth every few years, you don't know where you belong.

"You need to de-root and re-root and stay away from what you know for a while," she says.

The club gathers once a month to mix and mingle and holds activities including picnics, barbecues, mid-winter pot luck dinners, movie nights, quiz nights and day trips to Wellington.

The club has a stand at the Festival of Cultures in The Square every year and a special Christmas celebration that is to honour Holland's traditional Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, which was earlier this month.

The fellowship of the club goes beyond just enjoying Dutch food and events, Mrs Biersteker says. It's also about fostering friends to find their feet in a different country.

"The club helps you to get on your way here in New Zealand, because you can feel isolated if you can't make connections with the Kiwis straight away. So it's nice to connect up with other Dutchies and network.

"I'm just a human being who wants to have connections with other human beings and everyone needs that."

The club's membership has reached around 180 Dutchies, including many of the first Dutch immigrants to Palmerston North, their children and grandchildren, and second and third generation Dutchies.

Fellow Dutch club member Margreet Hekman says she loves being involved with the club and everything it represents.

"I've realised you can't get away from Dutch people and it's quite nice keeping traditions going."

The club encourages not only Dutch people, but other nationalities in the Manawatu who are interested in all things Dutch to try out an event.

If you would like more information or want to sign up to the club's newsletter, "Eigen Wieken", or the Federation of Dutch Clubs in New Zealand's nationwide newsletter, "de Schakel", email dutch.club.manawatu@gmail.com.

If you would like your club, group or organisation to be considered for a profile, email editor@msl.co.nz with "Join The Club" in the subject line.

The Manawatu Standard