In April 1957, Kirsten sailed into Auckland Harbour on the Monowai from Sydney. She travelled first class as her travel agent in Denmark had told her that only animals and the extremely poor people travelled economy.
Standing on the deck she searched the waiting crowd as the boat berthed. She was looking for a young Dane she had met in Vordingborg the year before. He was a farmer in the Waikato and had talked glowingly of NZ and even promised to meet her on the quay.
She was glad she had not accepted the £10 Sterling fare as an assisted passenger, for staying in NZ for a minimum of 2 years was just too long a commitment at this stage of life.
Her Danish friend had arranged for her to stay with Christian and Ditte Nissen in Mt Albert. The Nissen family had arrived a year earlier from Odense. They had three children now in their early 20s and welcomed all Danes especially young people to their home. The coffee pot was always brewing, the family welcoming and Mrs Nissen and her daughters were great cooks.
Kirsten’s father was adventurous and capable. As a young single man, before the First World War, he had hitch-hiked around the USA and gained an interest in agriculture. Both his daughters were brought up on father’s travel stories, influencing them to explore the world for themselves as young adults.
Kirsten’s mother owned a photographic shop in Slagelse, Sjælland in the 1940s. It was here, helping her mother with the new style poly photos, where 48 small photos were reproduced on one sheet, that she began to develop her interest in photography. Kirsten did not just want to develop films but to take the photos.
On leaving school she was accepted onto a photographic course at Copenhagen Technical Institute. She served a 3 year apprenticeship and gained her qualification. Then with her camera and a thirst for exploration she obtained a job in Tranaas, Sweden, as she felt she could manage the Swedish language readily. After that she had work in Jessheim a small town near Oslo in Norway which she really enjoyed. One of her duties was to photograph soldiers from the military base close by, including Prince Harald, now the King of Norway.
Keen to venture further away from home Kirsten decided to go to New Zealand. Her parents accepted her desire to explore the world further though it was hard saying goodbye.
Through Danish contacts Kirsten found a job the very first week. She was asked to be a house-keeper for Erik and Barbara Kjær and their children while both of them worked. This solution took care of both accommodation and work issues for Kirsten. Erik Kjær later became the Danish Consul in Auckland.
In 1957 New Zealand was a land of rapid immigration, big building projects, a generous social system to support young families with a great optimism for the future. Kirsten liked what she saw and quickly began to feel at home. She was impressed with the social systems in New Zealand in the 1950s, the free education system, even to University level, the health system and social support. It was a people-friendly country. The English language was no problem for her. Her first lessons in the language had been at school in Denmark and she continued to expand on that foundation in the first years of being here.
During the ‘50s and ‘60s The Danish Society in Auckland, often called the Danish Club, was bourgeoning as many new Danish immigrants arrived. Here was a meeting place for Danes, and Kirsten became a member of the folk dancing group. Børge and Ruth Kirk’s house was an “open home”, especially for young Danes. Kirsten had a special connection to Ruth Kirk, she had been a pupil at her father’s school and was not only a friend of Kirsten’s parents but had babysat her as a child.
It was a wonderful time for young people in New Zealand and Kirsten felt at home. Even as the year began to roll on there was no thoughts of returning to Denmark. About this time she met Henning Holzmann. He sailed along with others, on a Danish built wooden fishing boat to New Zealand over a period of three months.
He extended his stay and was taken on as a building apprentice by Freddie Christiansen and his business partner Ole Poulsen. They were good teachers and Henning too became a builder and a business partner.
Kirsten and Henning decided to get married but they wanted to do so with the blessing of their parents, and in Denmark. They travelled to Europe in 1960, sailing to Rotterdam in Holland. In Germany they bought a VW Combi van which Henning outfitted as a campervan. This they used as a home during their travels. They had a wonderful wedding surrounded by their parents and large extended family. Both Kirsten and Henning wanted to establish their married life in New Zealand, but coming to Denmark made them realise again how much part of their large extended family they were and how much they missed not having regular contact.
After a honeymoon in Europe they started their slow drive in their VW van to New Zealand. Their route took them through Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Kashmir and the length of India to Sri Lanka where they had to leave their van to be freighted on another boat, while they sailed on a passenger boat to New Zealand.
In New Zealand they set up home. Their two children, a girl and a boy both Kiwi born, completed the family. In their home the culture and language was Danish and outside of the home the family adapted to the New Zealand of the day. As a family they went back to Denmark in the ‘70s and ‘80s visiting family and friends, but New Zealand was their home.
Henning became a successful builder in Auckland and Kirsten later took a job as a photographer. She had a position at Ray’s Studios in Avondale and later as a medical photographer at Auckland Hospital and National Women’s Hospital. Henning sadly died in his mid 60s, but they did have twenty seven happy years.
Today Kirsten, well into her 80s, in her comfortable apartment, so Danish in style, looks back on her life and with a smile says “I have been so lucky. I have had a good life”. She is the proud grandmother of 3 grandchildren and has close contact with her family.
Life is never boring for Kirsten. She has many New Zealand and Danish friends.
It has not always been an easy life for her and now at this stage of her life health problems are pressing, but she is pleased with the choice she made to stay in New Zealand, bring up her family here and have the opportunity to travel much, just like her beloved father.
“I have been lucky” she says again and smiles with pleasure. “I have had a good life.”