Being Anglo-Indian in NZ
Christine's story

Christine Atkinson was born in Dehradun in Northern India and then moved with her family to Mussoorie, a hill station town high on a ridge in the foothills of the Himalayas with its vistas of a distant, always snow-capped, mountain range.
Christine black and white photo

Christine (left), her mother Gwynneth and her sister Margaret in Mussoorie, 1948 or 49

By the late 1940s, Partition had left its terrible scars and Indian independence engendered a sense of insecurity for many Anglo-Indians. Christine’s young parents responded to this by applying to migrate, as so many Anglo-Indians did at the time. For Christine's family, New Zealand was the destination they sought, although the rest of their family had previously migrated to the UK.

The family arrived in Auckland by ship in March 1949. Christine was four years old, the second daughter of the family. Her sister Margaret was eight years old and her mother was expecting their third child, Andrew.

In India, the family had enjoyed a refined English-influenced lifestyle. Christine recalls the culture shock the family experienced on arriving in New Zealand where they initially stayed in boarding houses until her father found work.

"...all that they could get to eat was baked beans or spaghetti on toast at a local dairy... Mum used to cry. It was just too much for her really. And Dad was trying to cope with us, and cope with Mum being so upset."

Christine’s father was a teacher who had taught in prestigious English-medium schools in India and soon after arriving in Auckland secured a teaching job, which meant the family could move out of the boarding houses and into a place of their own. Christine’s mother gave birth to a fourth baby, Paul, in 1952.

As well as the change of living arrangements being an enormous relief for the family, other events assisted them in settling. The year after they arrived, Christine’s maternal grandparents came to New Zealand to be with and support the young family. Anglo-Indian friends from India, who they had encouraged to migrate, also came to settle in New Zealand.

They soon had a very active social group that together attended New Year’s dances, picnics in the summer, and even holidayed together at Orewa Beach, north of Auckland, where they rented a boarding house big enough for all the families.

Christine talks about how others identify her and how she identifies herself, saying: “They don’t know where to put me. They honestly do not know.

"When I go up North, they think I’m Maori. If they look at me around here [in a South Auckland suburb], they think I’m part of the Indian society here.

"I say I’m European now in the Census, because I don’t know what to say, ‘cause I don’t want to be confused with the Indians here. I’m different, as I have a strong European background as well.”

Christine says she only now feels she would like the chance to go back to India. She had not wanted to earlier mostly because it held such painful memories of family separation.

Black and white old photo of man with kids

Christine's father and her brothers in New Zealand in the 1950s

One of her sons recently spent a few days in Mumbai, and as she delighted in reporting, “He loved it, he absolutely loved it.… And I was quite emotional about it. I thought, ‘Oh my goodness: the first of our family to set foot in India’. I didn’t think I’d feel like that, but I did.”

Another son, David, who is a medical practitioner in Whangarei, is researching and writing their family history, is a member of FIBIS (Families in British India Society), and has several articles published in their journal. As Christine says, “he is very interested, he always strongly identifies as Anglo-Indian. He’s quite proud of the fact.”

By Dr Robyn Andrews, senior lecturer Massey University

Views expressed in this article are personal to the author and are not to be taken as representing those of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.