Dutch Diaspora

The Embassy of the Netherlands in New Zealand has been publishing on their facebook page a series celebrating the local Dutch diaspora as part of a diverse Aotearoa/ New Zealand. This is the story of my family.

Gerrit Sijtze de Wagt

Our New Zealand connection begins with Gerry / Gerrit/ Heit / Dad. He was born in Langezwaad, Friesland on 7 February 1930, the eldest of six children. His first job was hand milking cows but he wanted more and successfully volunteered for the army and went to Netherlands Nieuw Guinea for four years. He loved his time there! At the end of his army service the Netherlands gave him a lump sum and paid for him to go to New Zealand. He arrived in Christchurch on 13 May 1952. In the ensuing years he married his kiwi wife, our mother Mary, and worked in many different jobs. Farm work in Springston, Montalto, Coopers Creek, Oxford and View Hill and for the Ministry of Works doing maintenance on the Rangitata irrigation system. He finally found his niche working for the Prison Service which offered him security, housing and promotion. He was well respected in his job by both staff and prisoners and Heit worked there for the next 31 years. Heit travelled back to the Netherlands seven times and always retained his Friesland ways – hard work and love of the land.

Ode to Heit

A new arrival in New Zealand with a bag and not much English,

A fine drinker of Dutch gin and a lover of Agria and Van Rosa potatoes,

A life member of the Oxford Working Men’s Club and a champion dart player,

A royalist who met the King and Queen of the Netherlands in NZ and made the Dutch news,

A lifelong letter writer to Niesja, his sister and a talker on the phone to his brother in Friesland.

A champion budgie and canary breeder,

An avid reader,

A proud family man,

A Dutch biker, biking to the prison, Cindy his dog waiting for his return,

A clog wearing gardener,

A tea at 5 o’clock kind of guy – the Dutch clock strikes,

A coffee at 10am with a Dutch biscuit,

A man who walked many miles and a planter of many trees,

A long legged man never comfortable in a car or a plane,

A creator of our link to the Netherlands and loved by all the Dutch cousins,

That’s our Gerry, Gerrit, Dad, Heit, Pakke, Clogs, the old bugger,

A man of few words but when he spoke he was worth listening to.

Janet de Wagt

I’m the second eldest in a family of six, born in Ashburton in 1957 and educated at Springston and Templeton Primary schools and Riccarton High school in Christchurch. I then studied Graphic Design at Christchurch Technical Institute and my first job was as a photographer at the Correspondence Institute in Lower Hutt, the starting point for a lifetime’s work in the Arts.

I grew up with the Dutch family on the sideboard, always aware of another world and way of being and as soon as I could I set off to explore the world and meet my Dutch relatives. I felt at home with my fellow long legged cousins and was lucky enough to meet my Dutch grandfather who smoked cigars and consumed gin and spoke very little English. I ended up living and working overseas for 25 years and continued my art practice and have been a self supporting working artist all my life.

I am an award winning artist well known for my landscape paintings, painted on location in all weathers and conditions. My passion is creativity and I am committed to empowering people to find and develop their own. I have worked with thousands of groups of people in many different countries on both large scale and small projects over my working life. I take a broad sweep of the arts, and am always interested in new ideas and challenges and different ways of working.

My latest exhibition ‘Fishy Fakes’ combines my collection of Old Masters’ prints and my passion for painting the South Island coastline and land ‘en plein air’. It also combines Wild Dunedin – New Zealand Festival of Nature and Dutch Week – a Celebration.

The old Masters are concerned with the now and the before, and by reworking them in the Aotearoa New Zealand landscape of today, I have combined these meanings like an exclamation mark highlighting the increasingly complex relationships between the oceans, the land, wildlife and us.

This reworking allows me to use what we already know about these paintings to add another layer of meaning to conservation issues in Te Waipounamu/ the South Island.

I look at this series of works and think of now and before, seeing my ancestors and forbears, even cousins, in the old Dutch paintings and ponder the cultural context that my father embodied when he emigrated to New Zealand.

Fishy Fakes’ – Janet de Wagt

23 April – 5 May 2022

Gallery De Novo, 110 Lower Stuart Street, Dunedin 9016


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