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.

INTERVIEW ANNA KILLICK PHOTO TEZ MERCER

WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOU BORN?

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!

WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE BAY OF PLENTY?

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.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE HAVING A STRONG DUTCH HERITAGE AND LIVING IN THE BAY?

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.

WHERE DID YOU GO TO SCHOOL?

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.

WHERE DID YOU WORK?

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!