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 

It was March 1952 when Esther, aged 22, said goodbye 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.

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