How It Was — Rene Sjardin
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?
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.
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!
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The third in a series, we talk to some of our longest-standing residents about life in the Bay. Ethel Willis (98) and daughter, Gillian Steele (76), have been living together for ten years.