Telling the stories of Post-war Cretan Female Migrants in New Zealand

An oral history and digital storytelling project

Telling the stories of Post-war Cretan Migrant Women in Aotearoa New Zealand

An oral history and digital storytelling project

Aboutthis project

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A Micro-study of Cretan Female Immigrants to NZ in the 60s: An oral history and digital storytelling project

This digital archive contains the material of an oral history project funded in 2010 by the Ministry of Culture and Heritage and Australian Sesquicentennial Gift Trust for Awards in Oral History and with the support of the Greek and Cretan communities in Aotearoa and Australia. It explored the migratory experiences of a distinct group of single women who left impoverished post-war Crete in Greece en masse to undertake domestic, hospitality, and hospital-related work in New Zealand in the early 1960s. Linked to the Battle of Crete and NZ’s historic connections with this island, these women’s arrival to NZ resulted directly from the advocacy of those NZ soldiers who fought in the battle and were assisted by locals. The oral history project focused on 15 selected women and several other participants including their NZ English language teacher, relatives, and community members in New Zealand, in Crete, and in Australia. The recorded interviews and supporting material have been deposited at the National Library Archives. 

We worked closely with the Greek Communities of Auckland and Wellington to identify women who first came to NZ, stayed, or moved on to Australia and/or back to Greece as suitable candidates to record for the first stage of our project.  The oral history project focused on 15 women and several other participants including their NZ English language teacher, relatives, and community members here, in Crete, and in Australia. The first component of this project including primarily the recorded interviews has been completed and material deposited at the National Library Archives. 

One of the limitations of research of this nature is that is fails to truly capture the impact such experiences as migration have upon the emotional landscape of the individuals caused by the rupture of parting.  The visual element of the research project in the form of the audio-visual recordings gives voice to this and is more adept at presenting the ambivalence and complexity of such experiences as it communicates to more senses than the written word.  Thus, the second component of the project involved developing a series of audiovisual outputs and a digital storytelling platform that would contain the curated material collected from the entire project in a creative, inclusive, and accessible way. Funding for the audiovisual recordings came from Unitec Institute of Technology and this part of the project has now been completed with all material collected. 

The creative digital storytelling form through this specially developed platform has been chosen to complement the interviews of representatives of this group. This  component was always part of the project as we wanted to add another platform for this rich material that would make it accessible to a wider audience here in Auckland where most of these women live, in NZ but also internationally.  

The aim is to creatively present these stories in a way that truly captures the impact such experiences as migration have upon the emotional and social landscape of the individuals involved and their chosen communities here in NZ. 

The visual and other creative elements in this proposed platform, along with the curated archival and other material give voice to this and are more adept at presenting the ambivalence and complexity of such experiences as it communicates to more senses than the written word. The platform allows future generations of this community and other ethnic/diasporic communities along with researchers in this area to access these stories in a relatable and engaging manner. 

The stories of these women are diachronic, lasting through time, and still relevant to today’s ethnically diverse makeup of Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa. Several of these women have intermarried with Pakeha, Maori and people from other ethnic groups in NZ which expands the reach of this project to various communities. By choosing a creative digital storytelling approach to share these stories, we can contribute to the conversations about diversity as well as the impact and contribution of migration on both migrant groups and the hosting society.


A large number of Greeks left their country after the WW2 for economic reasons resulting in large waves of migration to the US, Canada, Australia, several northern European countries, amongst others. New Zealand attracted a much smaller number of them in comparison to Australia which has one of the biggest Greek Diasporas.  A large influx of Greek migration to NZ took place in the 1950s and 1960s. A New Zealand government scheme to provide domestic staff for hotels and hospitals, as well as potential brides for the many single Greek men who were earlier arrivals, brought 267 young Greek women, mostly from the island of Crete, to New Zealand between 1962 and 1964.

Almost all were single women in the age group 16-35, especially 16-24. The influx of single women changed radically the sex ration of the NZ Greek population which was predominantly male, although, this changed with the arrival of fiancés and close relatives, as well as intermarriage (higher ratio amongst these female assisted immigrants). These women received basic instruction in special training centres in Greece prior to their departure including basic language and domestic skills. Most of them arrived in groups but dispersed upon their arrival to different work placements and often experienced isolation because of their poor language skills.

These young women were taking a big risk, moving to a country they knew very little about with very small Greek communities to provide them with support. This was in contrast to many post-war Greek Australian migrant women who often migrated with their families  to a country with well-established Greek communities, which helped to lessen the social and cultural dislocation experienced through the process of migration and settlement.

The Greek female workers who came to New Zealand were employed on a contract basis for two years, in different parts of the country. On completion of their contract, some moved to small established Greek communities, especially in Wellington and Auckland. This scheme resulted in a significant period of ‘chain’ migration consisting of fiancés, close relatives, often assisted by these young women. Some of these women chose later to migrate for the second time to Australia to join other relatives, for better prospects or to be part of the much larger Greek communities there.  By the 80s, a large number of these women returned to Greece and Crete as a result of changes in the immigration policies of both countries. This seems also to be a trend amongst Greek Australians who have an exceptionally high rate of return migration to Greece.

New Zealand has a special relationship with Greece, especially with the Island of Crete, stemming from World War II . Wellington has a sister city relationship with Chania (Hania) on Crete. The street in Wellington on which the Greek Orthodox Cathedral sits is named Hania in recognition of this special bond between the two cities. As most of these assisted female immigrants came from Crete, and more specifically from the Hania province, one can see a special connection and a contributing factor for this migration.

The largest concentration of Greek New Zealanders resides in Wellington. Smaller communities exist in Auckland, Christchurch and Napier/Hastings. Greek Orthodox churches exist in all these centres. The largest and most active organisation is the Greek Orthodox Community of Wellington which manages the Greek Community Centre. This consists of The Greek Orthodox Cathedral – The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Parthenon Building, classrooms and meeting rooms. Other cities and regions have active community associations as well, namely, Auckland, the Hutt Valley, Palmerston North and the South Island.

Many Greek New Zealanders have been able to maintain Greek cultural customs whilst integrating into the NZ way of life.  It has been estimated that that about 50 percent of marriages of Greek persons are now mixed. It is common for the wedding to take place in the Greek Orthodox Church with the non-Greek partner becoming baptised before the marriage.

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