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Here to Stay

Sunday at 1pm | TV ONE

The Dalmatians/Croatians - Frano Botica

Frano Botica
Tarara Maori and Rugby Star

Man, those old Dalmatian gumdiggers were tough. Digging out swamp to get at the petrified kauri gum - as I can tell you from first hand experience - was bloody hard work.

But it was all a means to an end - to own land and carve out a much better life for them here, in New Zealand, a world away from the scrapped over peninsula they came from - Dalmatia, Yugoslavia, Croatia.

The Northland terrain was rocky and hilly, a lot like what they'd come from. But it was paradise to them. The rocks, mud and hard work weren't going to kill them, not like the constant warring they'd left.

That's what I really like about my Dally rellies, both past and present. They have a single-mindedness that means they really know what they want and they aren't afraid to work hard to get it.

Most of the early immigrants settled in Northland, where they intermarried with the local Maori tribes. It's easy to see why - both cultures are really big on family, cultural identity, a strong sense of 'home', sing-a-longs and food. And neither was particularly welcomed by the English-speaking Pakeha.

They become the Tarara Maori - fast-talking Maori.

(Black and White photo: Taken in the Hawkes Bay near Wairoa where they were working in construction building the railway line. Frano's Grand-father is at the back, his cousin Vic in the middle and his brother Paul is at the front.)

My grandad came to New Zealand just after the WWI. He came from Kocula, a beautiful island off the coast from the city of Split. He went to Wanganui where he joined up with the Ministry of Works, as it was then. I grew up in Auckland but we would get down to Wanganui most school holidays.

My old granddad lived with us for the last six months of his life before he died in 1978. I wish I'd been old enough to ask him more about his life but, well, he didn't really seem to like talking about it anyway. He never taught my dad his language. "What's the use?" he'd say. "You'll never use it."

I really regret that. I can't speak Croatian and I can't speak Te Reo. That was one of the hardest things about doing this doco. I'd be interviewing an old Dalmatian, and he'd lapse into Croatian. I'd wait until he'd stopped and was looking at me expectantly, and then I'd have to say; "Oh, sorry, I can't speak the language."

It's really embarrassing. I felt like I'd let my ancestors down.

Now I'm determined to turn that around. Visiting the Auckland Dalmatian Club was great. Man, those guys really like to have a party. The dance they do is the kola, and of course, they thought it was a great idea to dress me up and show me the moves. I've got two left feet, so I was rubbish, but thankfully the magic of television makes me look not too bad.

Yeah, I'm much better at the haka...

Of course, all this stuff is really difficult anyway, but dancing the kola or playing the tamburica in front of the camera just made it all so much harder.

Until Here To Stay, I hadn't done any television presenting, so I was pretty nervous. I was never very good at learning lines at school, so trying to remember what I was supposed to be saying while walking in the right direction AND looking at the camera? Boy, give me a test against the Aussies any day.

But I got a lot better and I'm really keen to do it again - I guess the Dally in me made we work hard at it!

I reckon my Dalmatian side is pretty strong. I love food, I like a glass of wine, I like to gather around the guitar as the night wears on. I guess I'm also pretty determined - when I want something I go out and make it happen.

From what I've seen I think most Croatian / Dalmatian New Zealanders today are a lot like that. We're MPs, architects, designers, singers,pioneering winemakers, and leading businesspeople, for example.

These settlers have made a huge mark on New Zealand. Some of them I knew about, but others I didn't. They're such great people - loud, emotional, funny, creative, and strong. They reminded me a lot of the people I'd met when I visited Kocula.I don't really think New Zealanders know much about the different people that came here, the cultures they brought, or how it influences Kiwi life today. I think the series will give them a new appreciation of how immigrant groups have moulded New Zealand.

Luckily, with my rugby and playing for Croatia, I've managed to go back a few times and have even been to my granddad's island. I'd love to get back there, but for now my education will be limited to the Dalmatian club.

Please, no-one ask me to dance...