The fourth in a series, we talk to some of our longest-standing residents about life in the Bay. Dutch import and Tauranga Boys’ College language teacher René Sjardin (66) shares some of his experiences.



The Nether­lands in 1951. We moved to New Zealand when I was a tod­dler. My par­ents had just sur­vived the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of The Nether­lands, and were wor­ried about the Cold War between Rus­sia and Amer­i­ca drift­ing towards Europe. We chose to live in the Bay of Plen­ty as we had rel­a­tives here. Around ten thou­sand oth­er Dutch peo­ple made the move to New Zealand in the ear­ly fifties. Any­where far from Europe was pret­ty attrac­tive!


There was so much space. We had a great time on the beach­es and in the parks, even though they were fair­ly rough and had no ameni­ties. We lived for the most part in Frey­berg Street in Otu­moetai. I remem­ber going to look at the sec­tion on the back of my dad’s bike when the house was being built. We crossed the rail­way bridge from town, as the Chapel Street Bridge didn’t exist. We over­looked the golf course where my friends and I used to play war in the bush­es, search for golf balls and build huts.


My favourite Aran jumper in my 20s

I was pret­ty much a born and bred Kiwi. But there were lit­tle dif­fer­ences I noticed between our fam­i­ly and oth­ers; we had small­er meat por­tions and ate Dutch sta­ples like smoked sausage, sauer­kraut and gaseous brown beans ‚as opposed to the tra­di­tion­al Kiwi meat and three veg. I was also aware of my par­ents’ inabil­i­ty to speak Eng­lish very well.

We made economies wherever pos­si­ble. My par­ents had two huge veg­etable gar­dens that mug­gins here had to weed. While my father worked until retire­ment at the Post Office, my moth­er sold whole­meal bread, which became very pop­u­lar, to Hoven’s Del­i­catessen. She also taught cook­ery at night school.

They kept to them­selves but I don’t think that was because they were Dutch, I think it was just them.

Any new immi­grants to the Bay had to work hard as they were start­ing from scratch. Because of this, my par­ents saw them­selves as extreme­ly dili­gent, and New Zealan­ders as very laid-back and hap­py-go-lucky. We sel­dom went to the movies or had treats like oth­er fam­i­lies.

On a trip home to The Nether­lands when I was nine, I learnt Dutch in the nine weeks it took to get there by boat and back. I can still speak it although I’m told my lan­guage is rather old-fash­ioned.


Pillan’s Point School. We had school milk pro­vid­ed every day in half-pint bot­tles that would inevitably be warm by inter­val. We all dread­ed get­ting report cards with an appoint­ment to see the den­tal nurse. We called it ‘The Mur­der House.’ I always had fill­ings and there was no anaes­thet­ic. I remem­ber once the pow­er went out dur­ing my appoint­ment, so the nurse had to use the foot-ped­alled drill, which pro­longed the whole expe­ri­ence. Not nice.

We used to do march­ing every morn­ing. Colonel Bogie was always the tune, played on a record play­er near a micro­phone, so the qual­i­ty was pret­ty bad. We were unaware that we were being trained as cadets to be con­script­ed into the army in the event of anoth­er war. There’d been two wars in fair­ly close suc­ces­sion so no one was tak­ing any chances.

With my best friend, Arthur Pratt, on hol­i­day on Great Bar­ri­er Island in the 70s

I then went to Tau­ran­ga Boys’ Col­lege and was very stu­dious. We had a habit of giv­ing teach­ers nick­names like Scrub, Jam, Frog, Weasel and Creep­ing Jesus. Teach­ers for whom we had greater respect, or whom we feared, were often referred to by their first names, like Jack (Pringle), Hamish (Alexan­der) and Max (Heimann).

In the six­th form, my friends and I thought it would be a fun sci­en­tific project to make our own wine. We did this at home and brought it to school in Hansell’s juice con­tain­ers. If we’d been caught, we’d have got the cane. Iron­i­cal­ly, I went on to teach there for 31 years.


I did a Mas­ter of Arts major­ing in Ger­man at Waika­to Uni­ver­si­ty, where I met Les­ley. We’ve been mar­ried for 43 years. I found there was no resid­u­al ani­mos­i­ty at that time from younger peo­ple who had been born after the war, towards oth­er cul­tures. How­ev­er, my par­ents were upset that I was learn­ing Ger­man and Japan­ese, because of the Ger­man occu­pa­tion of The Nether­lands.

I worked as head of lan­guages at Tau­ran­ga Boys’ Col­lege for the best part of 31 years before tak­ing on the same role at Beth­le­hem Col­lege.

In my career, I have taught Span­ish, Japan­ese, Ger­man, French and Eng­lish. I have a love for for­eign lan­guages. I’ll keep teach­ing as long as my health and my enthu­si­asm will allow. I might die in the class­room with my boots on!