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

Janet Yakmis (Dumble) / Full biography

Janet was born in 1938, in Auckland, New Zealand. She became involved in the lives of the Cretan women who migrated to NZ through a chance encounter while traveling on a Greek ship called the Patrice. She met a woman named Amelia Alister and suggested Janet apply for a job at a school for girls wanting to migrate to New Zealand. Janet, a trained teacher, decided to take the opportunity and teach English in Greece. She stayed with Emily’s family in Athens before renting a room and eventually moving to Lesbos (Mytilene), where she taught English in a school held in a tourist hotel. Janet found the experience of teaching these young girls from different backgrounds to be rewarding and enjoyed socializing with them outside of class.

Janet mentions that the girls had various motivations for participating in this migration scheme, including seeking new opportunities and adventures, as well as recognizing limited prospects for women in Crete. She also mentions the influence of Mrs. Betsy, an American woman who worked for the mayor and had unique expectations regarding personal hygiene. Overall, Janet’s time teaching English in Greece provided her with valuable experiences and insights into different cultures.

She found the English teaching to be poor, but didn’t complain as she was well compensated. She noticed that the young Greek women she taught were not very different from the young women in New Zealand, where she was from. She found however the Greek girls’ lives to be more restricted and difficult, especially after visiting their families in Crete.

Janet also shares her personal experience of becoming pregnant while unmarried in the 1960s, which was frowned upon in NZ at the time. She gave the baby up for adoption and decided not to return to teaching, instead choosing to pursue her own life.

She also mentions that she had a relationship with an engineer during her journey to Greece, but it ended when she got her job. She didn’t discuss her pregnancy or personal life with the Greek girls she taught, as it was considered private.

Janet talks about her time in Lesbos, where she met her Greek husband after her work contract ended. She still remembers some of the girls she taught and occasionally meets them at the Greek church in Wellington or Auckland.

She describes the experiences of being married a Greek man in Greece, highlighting the changing cultural dynamics and the challenges faced by Greek women in finding husbands. The interviewee also touches upon the couple’s correspondence, meeting each other’s families, and their eventual move to New Zealand.

Janet mentions that the reception of these young women varied between Auckland and Wellington, with the latter being less welcoming. The Greek community in Wellington, which had immigrated decades earlier, was less accepting of these women, possibly due to cultural differences and the women’s more modern attitudes.

She also mentions the women’s difficult experiences in New Zealand, including being placed in unsuitable living conditions and facing challenges due to language barriers and unfamiliar social norms. Despite these hardships, some of the women managed to build good lives in New Zealand over time.

Janet who was close in age to these women and shared similar experiences, formed close bonds with them. She attributes this to her egalitarian views and her ability to see the women as equals rather than as charity cases. She also mentions that New Zealand was more egalitarian during the 1950s and early 60s, which she found preferable to the class system she encountered in Greece.

She recounts her experiences living in different cultures and her preference for people over places. She mentions her disinterest in tourism and her desire to work and live in different places rather than just visit them. She talks about her Greek husband’s struggle to adapt to life in Auckland and their eventual move to Queenstown. She also discusses the blending of cultures in their household and the challenges of language barriers. Janet mentions her frustration at not being able to fully participate in intellectual and political conversations due to her limited Greek language skills. She also discusses the differences between life in a city and life in a small community, and the sense of personal space and social norms in different cultures.

She also talks about the experiences of Greek women who migrated to Australia, some of whom had negative experiences.

Janet describes various experiences and challenges faced in Greece,  mentioning difficulties with personal space, encounters with touchy individuals, and cultural differences regarding marriage and baptism. She also discusses their decision not to get baptized and their husband’s frequent trips back to Greece. The text touches on the her changing priorities and the strain it put on her marriage. Her children, who were half Greek, faced some challenges in New Zealand due to their cultural background.

Janet discusses the cultural differences and challenges faced by these immigrants, particularly women, who led very constrained lives in Greece and had to adjust to a freer society in New Zealand. She mentions the stark contrast between the educated and uneducated people in Greece, and how this affected their lives. The speaker also expresses her sadness at the rapid modernization and loss of traditional culture in Greece. She questions whether it was beneficial for these women to leave Greece and come to New Zealand, given the difficulties they faced in adapting to a new culture.

Janet reflects on the resilience and fragility of individuals and their ability to pursue their desires. Overall, it explores the intersection of personality, culture, and circumstances in shaping people’s lives.