by Hans Willem (Willy) Kolff (CCB XVIIoo), includes a link to the (Dutch) biography of Tora Kolff-Gerretsen
New Zealand Kolff family celebrate 50 years of residency
On 14th December 1950 the family of Kees (Cornelis) Kolff landed on the Wellington Harbour from Sydney in the unusual way by means of a Sunderland Flying Boat of the Australian airline TEAL. The family group consisted of Kees’s wife Tora and their five sons between the ages of 4½ and 14 as well as their 11 month old daughter. Kees himself had come half a year earlier to find work and accommodation. He was already 48 years old.
It was the last stage of a long journey from Holland which they had left on 25th October. They had sailed on the Sibajak from Rotterdam via the Suez Canal, Colombo, and Perth to Syndey. Here the family were required to stay 2 weeks longer than originally planned because the daughter had got the German measles and they were not permitted to continue to New Zealand until she was non-contagious.
Kees was born in 1902 in South Africa where his father practised medicine, but at the age of 6 the family returned to Holland. As a young adult he lived in Indonesia until the world depression struck in the early 30’s. He returned to Holland where he met his wife-to-be. In 1934 he married Tora Gerretsen back in Indonesia where he lived the following 5 years. He was on leave in Holland when the war broke out and was unable to return. Having returned to Indonesia alone after the war was over, he quickly discovered that the political situation was far to unstable and dangerous to live there with the 5 sons he was now the father of. Work was difficult to find in Holland, especially with his working skills and experience. The plan to emigrate to New Zealand was taken in 1949.
Life was not easy in New Zealand , but the freedom from overcrowded Holland and the beautiful scenery and pleasant climate outweighed the sometimes tough daily conditions the family lived under. Furthermore New Zealand had well developed health and education systems being of considerable benefit to the family.
On 14th December 2000 the children of the late Kees and Tora Kolff gathered in the city of Nelson to start 4 days’ commemoration together with spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren coming from different parts of New Zealand, as well as first generation cousins from Holland on both sides of the family. Also one son, now living in Denmark, was there with his 2 adult children. In all 36 who were directly connected to the original family were present. It was a very special time for everyone.
On the evenings of the first 2 days everyone presented themselves and related in different ways what this occasion meant to them, as well as telling about memorable incidents which they wanted to share. Tribute was paid by the children to Kees and Tora for making the decision to settle in New Zealand leading to a life they all treasure now. On the Saturday a bus was chartered to take the gathering to places in theNelson district which had played an important role in the Kolff family’s life during those past 50 years.
The Kolffs were one of the first of the 60,000 Dutch immigrants that arrived n New Zealand during the following 15 years or so. The Dutch made a considerable impact on New Zealand. Life was difficult in many ways, especially acclimatizing to the rather insular New Zealand culture and mentality of the time. The new national museum of New Zealand in Wellington, Te Papa, has at present a special display about the immigration including a film clip from 1957 of the Kolff family.
Tora Kolff wrote some articles for Dutch magazines describing their new life. For one article she won a KLM prize. Later her memoirs which she originally wrote for the family were published as a book under the title “From the Lowlands to the Hills“. In it she relates many interesting and often humoristic incidents from those first years in New Zealand, as well as her life in Holland and Indonesia before that time. Grand-daughter Louise from Denmark, who is now studying at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam found re-reading the book, especially descriptions of Holland, helped her to bring her closer to her Dutch roots. Interestingly enough, even though the new Kolffs gradually spread out to live in many different parts of New Zealand, in recent years five of the first-generation children have returned to the Nelson area and are all now living in Nelson city.
It is fascinating to find out through the internet how the Kolff families have put down their roots in many different parts of the world. No doubt, with today’s fast modern transport, many more will do the same.
Willie Kolff, Denmark
|See also: Biographies: From the Lowlands to the Hills by Tora Kolff|