Journey from Netherlands to new life in Dunedin

In Astride A Fierce Wind, Dunedin author Huberta Hellendoorn charts her voyage from the Netherlands to a new life on the other side of the world.

Huberta Hellendoorn
Makaro Press


Huberta Hellendoorn emigrated from the small village of Warnsveld in Gelderland, the Netherlands, to New Zealand in 1960 with her husband Bart. Both in their early 20s, they had met at a youth camp and felt a growing need to escape what they felt was an oppressive environment as well as their own histories of turmoil.

Astride a Fierce Wind is her memoir, taking us through childhood to the present day.

Hellendoorn was born in 1937, a time on the brink of war, as continental Europe plunged into calamity. Her family, though in a "neutral'' country, nevertheless witnessed the terrors of war. She sheltered in cellars as attacks went on nearby. Those scenes would remain vivid in her adult mind.

And, as she was not close to all the members of her family - she had particularly "ambiguous relations'' with her father - the time was ripe to make a fresh start in New Zealand.

A slow crossing by ship signified the couple's physical and symbolic shift, but at this time she was wary of the future, missing the gezelligheid of home, that is the notion of conviviality, belonging, and togetherness as the Dutch understand it.

As new immigrants living in the Dunedin suburb of Opoho she was anxious about how they would be expected to assimilate, and how they would hold on to their Dutchness while creating new identities here. Settling into a 1960s Dunedin and involved with the church, they learned to be restrained in their manners and not too enthusiastic. Another deep concern was whether she would ever see family members again. A later concern was that her New Zealand-born children did not share a language with their grandparents.

Hellendoorn's memoir is composed of many short accounts filed into three parts. Her poetry intersperses the short snippets comprising her story. She writes in a gentle and musing tone of the challenges, be they those common to the new arrival, or more personal.

She writes of the struggles to bring up daughter Miriam, who has Down syndrome, and of the need for Miriam to find acceptance in the community, to be accepted as an artist, and have her health worries addressed.

Most poignantly, and bravely, she touches on deeply personal family relations.

Hellendoorn's second full-length published work after The Madonna in the Suitcase (2009), an account of life with daughter Miriam, Astride a Fierce Wind is a compact and sensitively-presented story of a woman's challenges as an immigrant, the prejudices she overcomes, and ultimately, a meaningful and energetic life with new friends and whanau here.

Jessie Neilson is a University of Otago library assistant.

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