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Szent István Klub - the first Hungarian association in Auckland

Many of you - like my fellow Kőrösi Csoma Sándor scholarship holder and me - may not have heard of the first Hungarian association in Auckland called the Szent István Klub before. We have tried to recall some of the details with those members of the community who may remember it from their childhood. The recollections of Kőszegi Ágnes and Kőszegi Zoya are quoted in the following article.


In the 1950s, only a few Hungarian families lived in Auckland, but in December 1956 and January 1957, nearly 1,000 people from Hungary arrived in New Zealand as refugees on three flights, seeking a new home. In 1957, first Zoya Kőszegi’s family and then Ágnes Kőszegi’s family arrived. The authorities distributed the arriving Hungarians between three large cities, Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, in order to better distribute the labour force. Many families managed to find homes of their own, but others were forced to stay for long periods in refugee hostels, from where they were bussed to Sunday evening masses at St Patrick's Cathedral - where the Ágnes’s and Zoya’s families met several Hungarian families. The first Hungarian community gathering for those who settled in Auckland was held in the wooden, one-storey building opposite St. Patrick's Cathedral.


The people were very happy to meet each other, as it was a new environment for everyone, but the shared cultural background gave them a sense of home. In time, the gatherings after services became a safe meeting point for newcomers and an opportunity to get Hungarian community life going, albeit at that time without an organisational framework. The women baked cakes, the men smoked cigarettes, everyone tried to discuss new experiences, and over the years, Hungarian traditions were revived. The meetings were organised with the help and leadership of Hungarians who had lived in Auckland in the 1950s. In January 1957, the growing Hungarian community decided to form the Szt. István Klub, which at that time was still operating without a board in Victoria Street, in cooperation with the New Zealand Red Cross, the Catholic Church and priest Fr. Flanagan. There weren't really any big meetings that year, with small numbers (about 40-50 people) gathering for an occasion. Everyone was busy exploring the new place, getting used to it, settling in, learning English, getting a place to live. In 1959 a dance group was formed and performed at several community events.



In 1958, however, Ágnes’s father, Gyula Kőszegi was elected as first president. In the following two years, the club, which then had about 50 members, aimed to help the young people, most of whom were in their teens and twenties, to settle in, to help them find jobs, to help with night schooling and other bureaucratic tasks. Ágnes, daughter of Gyula Kőszegi, recalled that her father's principles at the club were the use of the Hungarian language and Catholic values, but he also placed great emphasis on the need for the newcomers to work on learning English. In 1961, Gyula resigned his post because of his increasing other responsibilities and felt that he had succeeded in settling those who had arrived between 1958-60. The leadership of the club was not taken over by anyone else, and shortly afterwards, the Szent István Klub was disbanded, and Hungarians did not meet in an organised way until the 1970s, when the Auckland Hungarian Club was officially founded.



Ágnes Kőszegi and Zoya Kőszegi were unanimous in saying the key phrase about the events of this period: "Friendly assistance; that was the most important thing in the Szent István Klub".


Petra Piroska Póda, Ágota Győri

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