Honour your country and your family,
never put blame on your name

Esther Barrett

“How exciting it would be to travel, see the world,” thought Esther, when a girlfriend asked her to join her in New Zealand. Esther loved her home, her parents and the large extended family she had grown up in, but she wanted to experience life outside of her home town of Aarhus.

It was March 1952 when Esther, aged 22, said good bye to her parents.

The actual day of her arrival in NZ was 15th May 1952, on a flying boat from Sydney. Auckland’s harbour looked beautiful in the sun. On land stood her Danish friend and her new employer, ready to drive her to her next home in life.

Matamata a small country town

In Matamata, Esther worked for a New Zealand family. It was her job to help look after the children and assist with household chores. She spoke little English and the family spoke no Danish but with Esther’s energy, good humour and outgoing personality they all managed to understand each other.

Listen to how she learnt basic words.

Matamata was to Esther a small and old fashioned town. It was in the midst of a farming area. “The women wore hats when shopping in the main street. I felt I had stepped back in time,” says Esther. “The bakery was the most disappointing. There were no fresh bread rolls, just soft white bread and no cakes I recognised. A cake was two biscuits held together with jam and then there were Lamingtons, cakes dunked in coconut!!! Worst of all there was no rye bread.”

She did not let that deter her from enjoying her two years break from Denmark. “I take life as it comes,” says Esther, “and that was Matamata in 1952.”

There were some attitudes that she did not agree with.

It was not until she had settled into her new role as au pair in Matamata that she was asked to repay her passage. This was a surprise. As she had no extra funds she needed to repay it from her wages. Her weekly pay was £4. Out of that she paid the family back £2 per week. The passage had cost £400 but she was unfazed that it would take time to pay it back.

In the August holidays in 1952 the family, including Esther, visited Auckland. Here she had an invitation to a function at the Danish Society. This was the gathering place for Danes, who were beginning to settle in this country. That evening she met John Barrett, a young Dane who had been here for two years. John came from Odense in Fyn where he trained as a butter and cheese maker. In 1952 there was a strike on the Auckland wharf. Non-union men obtained jobs to keep the wharf functioning. John signed on, and enjoyed the work and continued to enjoy carpentry throughout his life. Later he became a qualified builder, through a two year apprenticeship.

The friendship between Esther and John grew. He visited Matamata and Esther visited John in Auckland on her days off. She travelled to and from Auckland by bus.

In the middle of 1953 her good Danish friends in Matamata, that had encouraged her to come to New Zealand, immigrated to the United States. What did Esther want to do now? Would she stay on in Matamata or go home to Denmark? John asked her that question as well. Esther still had a debt of £120. John not only offered to pay the debt but also asked her to marry him.

Moving to Auckland

Esther went to Auckland and stayed with friends of John, an elderly English couple Mr and Mrs Collingforth, in Glenfield. She found work with Hans Beck, a Danish tailor, who had a clothing manufacturing business, making coats, suits and jackets. John was building a house nearby. At this time he also started to build a house for them in Neal Ave, Glenfield.

A Danish Wedding in Auckland

They were married on the 19th December 1953, in a small brick church in Grafton that the Danes hired for Danish language services.

Settling into Glenfield and returning to Denmark

Settled into their new house in Neal Ave, they welcomed their first child, Kim in 1955. To both Esther and John, it felt time to introduce their son to their families in Denmark. So in 1956, the Barrett family of three returned to Aarhus and stayed there for two years, John working as a carpenter while Esther cared for their son. She loved being with her parents and extended family. They thought hard about the future, Was it Denmark or New Zealand? John loved New Zealand and so they returned in 1958, this time with two children. Jan, their second son was born in Denmark.

In their Neal Ave house in Glenfield, they created a Danish home in a Kiwi setting.

The family was blessed with more children, Antony, David and Annette. Esther’s family had strong values, permeated with love and security. “My father had always said to us, ‘Honour your country and your family, never put blame on your name,’ and I lived by that. I was very fortunate to have a secure family life. It enables me to take life as it comes and enjoy life. That is how I have lived and that is what I have passed on to my children”.

In 1966 Esther and John went back to Denmark for another extended period of two years. This gave their five children a further grounding in Danish culture and language. As time went on the pull of New Zealand was too strong and their future was to be in New Zealand.

A new house in Island Bay

The Barretts came home to build yet another family home. This time in Island Bay Road on the North Shore. It was built by John and included all Esther’s wishes and wants. There was plenty of room for the children, a kitchen to her liking, lounge and large dining room setting as well as a balcony all the way around the house.

There was always warmth and friendship where Esther and John were. Esther enjoyed cooking and entertaining. Her winsome personality and joy of life along with John’s warmth and interest in people made their home a magnet for their family life and friends. There were two priorities in their lives, the first was church, which the whole family attended each Sunday and the second was the Danish Society, where they not only attended functions but were also involved on the committee and working parties.

Later in life

At the age of forty, Kim the oldest son died of a chronic illness. It was an enormous loss to the whole family. The heartache of his loss is still very much felt. John passed away as a result of a long battle with cancer in the 90s. “They have been two big losses. It has not been easy but I have a positive approach to life and a strong, steady faith in God, and many supportive friends.”

Sadly Esther passed away after a short illness in January 2016. She did have an exciting life of travel, home-making and sharing her love and contentment of life with others.

The last words must be Esther’s.