It is approaching 160 years of Croatian settlement in New Zealand.
Many left their villages on Croatia’s Dalmatia coast and islands and headed to the other end of the world to the gum fields in the north of New Zealand.
The biggest wave of migration from Croatia to New Zealand happened between 1890 and 1914, prior to World War I.
The Croatians, who worked hard and sent most of their money back home to family, mixed well with the native Māori people. Similar backgrounds and interests, such as the love for good food, alcohol, song and a game of cards, helped them grow close.
The Māoris nicknamed the Croatians ‘Tarara’ – which was how the language sounded to them when Croatians spoke among themselves. The nickname still lives today.
A lot of Croatian men married Māori women. One of those was men was Ivan Perdija. Ivan was born in the village of Pupnat on the island of Korčula in 1922 and lived in Pupnatska Luka.
Ivan moved to New Zealand and settled in Northland, creating a family a new life in his adopted country, and now his granddaughter, Karllie Clifton, has made the trip the other way to find out more about her family roots.
Ivan died relatively young, meaning he could not pass on much about his Croatian culture to Karllie.
“My reason for wanting to spend time here (in Croatia) is to learn about and experience the culture and country my grandfather came from. Even though my grandfather passed away when I was very young I am thankful to have been told a lot about him when I was growing up. But trying to understand it all was sometimes confusing”, Karllie explains.
Curious about the far away land her grandfather came from which she had only ever heard about, Karllie, who turns 40 this year, decided to visit.
She signed up for a 3-month volunteer programme, which sees her living with a family in Zagreb in exchange for helping them improve their English.
From her base in Zagreb she made the trek down south before Christmas to the island of Korčula.
Ivan Perdija’s mother was a Poša, a common surname on the island, and it was not long before Karllie tracked down people who knew her grandfather.
“I met a lovely couple, Marija and Ivan. Marija knew who was who and knew exactly where my grandfather was from and it turned out Ivan is related on the Poša side of my family”, says Karllie, who had many ‘mind-blowing’ experiences on her visit to Korčula.
“The craziest thing was they had a photo on their wall of a Poša family taken in Kaikohe (New Zealand) in 1905. I couldn’t believe it.”
Karllie strolled around villages like Račišče and Kneže where her grandfather and his family lived.
“I always wanted to go there and get to know the people and the culture.”
Karllie has used her time in Croatia to check out other parts of the country. Trips to Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Samobor, and Plitvice Lakes has left her wanting more.
“I will definitely come back again. It has been unreal tracing where my family roots on my grandfather’s side are from. Croatia is such an easy country to live in, everyone’s really lovely,”she concluded.
Karllie, who is blogging about her travels on Yolo Solo, leaves Croatia next weekend and will slowly make her way back to New Zealand via the UK, Jamaica and the United States.