Building a new New Zealand
Or in Danish “Nu har vi det godt”

Poul Jørgensen

By the time Poul was 21 years of age, in 1955, he had already completed an apprenticeship and his compulsory military training and he was pleased to be a qualified builder. Now, he was ready for the next phase of life, something new and adventurous.

An invitation from a far-away country

Poul’s childhood friend, Hans Balle, had migrated to New Zealand and suggested Poul join him. The invitation was too hard to turn down and there was nothing to stop him travelling. That he could speak little English and knew very little of New Zealand, was not a concern.

“I will be back in three years”, was his solemn promise to his mother and father, who were excited for him if not a little anxious that he was going so far away.

His boat trip to Australia was eventful for a young man.

On Tuesday 5th February 1957, Poul flew from Sydney to Auckland. As the plane approached Auckland the city was covered in thick fog preventing the plane from landing. It was diverted to Ohakea Airport.

Hans Balle had also arranged a job for Poul with the builder Børge Kirk, known as Bob Kirk. Within days of arriving Poul was at work. His fellow workers were Danes and New Zealanders and in a beginning way he learnt a little more English.

Working as a builder for Bob Kirk

He clearly remembers his first day. The project was to build a factory for Schofields in Newmarket, opposite the Olympic Pool. No sooner had they got into their work when his fellow builders put their tools down.

He had to adapt to the New Zealand way of building houses. He was used to working with timber frames but not the prepared weatherboards, as the outside cladding of all Danish houses are built in brick. Nor was he used to preparing the boxing for the concrete foundation. He found the differences interesting and just got on with the requirements of the job. “In those days,” says Poul, “a builder worked on all aspects of the house outside and inside. We did all the finishing inside making doors, windows and kitchen cabinets. There was no pre-fabrication. It made the work very satisfying.”

Bob Kirk and his wife Ruth, together with their daughters had arrived in New Zealand in 1949. Their home in Panmure was located behind the shopping centre, on a large section. Here they not only had a comfortable home but there was also space for his workshop and business. The Kirk’s home was a magnet to young Danes as Ruth was a good cook.

Bob Kirk was president of the fast-growing Danish Society in Auckland, which in the late 1950s purchased the picture theatre on Parnell Rise. With so many carpenters among the Society’s membership, the men sawed and hammered to refurbish the facility to create the large upper reception room and a smaller hall below.

With the Kirk’s encouragement the young people formed a folk dancing group. Bob Kirk and his staff built an outdoor platform for their dancing practices. “We knew all these dances from home,” says Poul, “and we had a lot of good times. It cemented friendships that were going to last for a life and still exist today.”

Falling in love

There was a particular young Danish woman in the folk dancing group that Poul was attracted to. They became dancing partners and began to enjoy each other’s company. After three years in NZ, full of hard work, many good friends and a lot of fun, he found himself being torn between his love for his girl-friend and his parents back home in Denmark. The promise to his mother was that he would only be away for three years and now he was deeply in love, on the other side of the world. For Poul there was only one thing to do and that was to marry. Denmark would have to wait a while. The wedding took place in May 1960. They were both in their 20s, young, energetic and happy.

Building his first family home

With responsibility for his wife, Poul found a section in Lagoon Road by the Panmure Basin, within walking distance of his job. Here he built a house on the cliff, high above the road. Poul was building at work and in his spare time but this house belonged to him and his wife and that felt special. Access from Lagoon Drive to the house was by an outdoor elevator. “It was the first to be built in Auckland,” says Poul proudly.

When the children came along, they had the ideal setting. Living close to the grandparents, the boys were encouraged to speak Danish with them as well as within their own home. The Danish Society provided the wider community to reinforce Danish culture through celebrations at Christmas – Juletræsfest, Easter- Fastelavn, and the traditions surrounding birthdays. The home and household was Danish but at school the boys spoke English. “They were good times” says Poul, “I would not have had that kind of life in Denmark. Nor would I have been able to earn so well.”

First trip back to Denmark

Poul knew he needed to go back to visit his parents in Gislev, Denmark. So in 1969 he was proud to take his wife and two sons back to Denmark to visit his family and friends. It was later than he had promised his mother but he made it. He was aware how much he had changed and was happy about his choice to stay in New Zealand. This visit was going to be the first of many. “I have been back to Denmark so many times now that I have lost count.”

His parents came out to New Zealand in 1976 and although they spoke no English they loved his chosen country and being with Poul and his family.

Establishing his own business

Poul worked for Bob Kirk for 15 years in total. In 1972 he set up his own building business.

He was a good worker, energetic, easy for customers to deal with and an expert builder. There was always more than enough work and he employed good staff to assist his business.

A New Zealand life

In his office he has a wooden carved sign hanging over the door with the inscription of this Danish saying “Nu har vi det godt” which means we are having a good time, now.

Poul looks back at his life, with its many opportunities, challenges and achievements.

He appreciates his sons who have both achieved in their own lives, in the construction business, one in Australia and one in Auckland, and he loves his grand-children.

He is proud of his work history and business achievements and has contributed to New Zealand society in many ways especially through Rotary, of which he was a member for 30 years. He has many friends with whom he and his wife socialise. Poul has developed over the years an appreciation of quality and has been able to enjoy that aspect of life.

There are no regrets about leaving Denmark. “I could not live there now, but I love going back to Denmark” he says. “I like the attitudes of people in New Zealand and I love this country where I have been given so many opportunities and more than I could ever dream of.”

You can understand why I made the sign “Nu har vi det godt”.   That is my life.