Hungarian Settlers in New Zealand

Early Settlers from Austria-Hungary

Census records indicate that the first permanent Hungarian settlers arrived in New Zealand during 1872-76, with a further handful in the late 19th century. Then a certain István Rácz came to try his fortune, settling in Tuatapere in 1906. In his letters he spread the word about opportunities for those willing to work hard on the land to adventuring, spirited hopefuls back in his hometown Csongrád, and in 1911 three such families - the Kollát-s, the Szivák-s and the Kókay-s - joined him to build new lives for themselves. In 1912 they were all granted land occupation licences and through hard work they managed to establish prospering farms and eventually gain acceptance from the locals. Still other immigrants followed from Csongrád some 20 years later. Upon his passing away in 1970, István Kókay’s son, Stephen, was remembered in the papers for his contribution, especially as elected representative of the Waiau district on the Wallace County Council. Some of the descendants of these original four families still live in Southland today.

The Core of New Zealand’s Hungarian Population,

Refugees of the 1956 Uprising

Subsequent to the “first wave”, peaks of permanent immigration of Hungarians to New Zealand occurred around the beginning and end of World War II, with 55 Hungarians arriving during 1939/40 and 62 in 1949/50. A further 136 came in 1951/52.

The majority of New Zealand’s Hungarian population, however, arrived as refugees in 1956/57 as a result of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. A total of 1099 arrived, 57% of whom were between the ages of 21 and 44 years. Most were young males in the 20 to 30 year age-group. The largest number settled in Auckland, (39%), then Wellington, (27%), and then Christchurch, (13%). Although they were from a variety of backgrounds, most were reported (by the Department of Internal Affairs) to have settled satisfactorily into new jobs by 1958. Initially the refugees married mostly Hungarian-born partners, however, from 1959 onwards there was a rapid decline in such marriages. This had a significant impact on the assimilation of these refugees and their children into New Zealand society and culture.

Recent Hungarian Immigrants

In the decade up to 1970 approximately 290 Hungarian immigrants came to make a new life in New Zealand. Since then there has been an irregular but steady number of Hungarians continuing to come to this country to make a new future for themselves.

The “snapshot” of Hungarians in New Zealand in the 2001 New Zealand Census showed 987 individuals were born in Hungary. Altogether 1,191 people said they speak Hungarian, and 894 indicated their ethnicity as Hungarian.

The true figure of New Zealand Hungarians is difficult to measure. There are many of Hungarian origin who were, for example, born in countries neighbouring Hungary. There are many second and third generation New Zealanders of Hungarian origin, who do not speak the language. And in recent years there has been a steadily increasing number of new Hungarian immigrants. All in all the population of New Zealand Hungarians is estimated at about 2000.