Part Two

One Community, Two Clubs: The Story of the Yugoslav Societies

by Helena Wiseman*

Like many Aucklanders of Dalmatian heritage, I grew up knowing about the Dalmatian club. The Dalmatian Cultural Society today stands at the top of New North Road. Every Friday, the clubrooms open to members to socialise. There are picnics. There is a ballroom, a tamburica orchestra, weekly Croatian language classes. Children learn the national dance, the kolo. 

These are familiar activities for Auckland Dalmatians. Since the 1930s, there have been two cultural clubs which historically played a critical role in supporting the Dalmatian immigrant community through post-war stress, homesickness, and their attempts to forge a new life in Auckland city.

The walls of today’s Club are covered in photographs of those two organisations from which it formed, known to Dalmatians at the time as “top” and “bottom” club – a reference to their relative positions on Hobson Street. The Yugoslav Club Inc at 106 was the “bottom club”, and “the top club” was the Yugoslav Benevolent Society, above Haynes Catering at 79a.[1] These clubs brought Dalmatian culture to Auckland, from rooms at Hobson Street, to celebrations at the often-used venue and Auckland institution, the Town Hall.

Figure 1: Dalmatian Cultural Society Clubrooms. Source: Personal.


The modern club is the product of the merger of the two Hobson Street clubs following political disagreements after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Similarly, the Yugoslav Benevolent Society and Yugoslav Club Inc were themselves the product of an earlier disagreement within the community.[2]

The Yugoslav Club was the first to formalise its organisation through incorporation, and broadly speaking, attracted members from the first wave of Dalmatian immigration. These people tended to be politically conservative. Tony Barbarich recalled that the members were often the well-landed orchard or vineyard owners.[3] The Yugoslav Club Inc. thought of itself as non-political, although that was in itself a political stance, and came to prioritise what it saw as uncontroversial aspects of culture like dance and music.[4]

Figure 2: Yugoslav Benevolent Society Committee. Source: Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Archive.


By contrast, the Yugoslav Benevolent Society was home to those who identified as working class, and was a far more politically active, left-wing organisation – reflected by the numerous name changes of the organisation throughout the 1930s. They were at various times, the Yugoslav Workers Educational Society, the Croatian Cultural and Benevolent Society, and the Yugoslav Club Marshall Tito (a change made after Tito took power in 1946), before settling, in 1950, as the Yugoslav Benevolent Society.[5] The name changes reflected the political landscape of Yugoslavia at the given moment, a degree of engagement with the politics of the home country that soon defined the club in the imagination of Aucklanders. 

The political differences between the two clubs became a point of tension in the years following the Second World War, a story we will soon pick up. But notwithstanding their disparate views, both organisations were concerned first and foremost with serving their community and bringing Dalmatians together.[6]

The clubrooms were a physical place for Dalmatians to come together. The rooms would open on Sunday evenings for people to gather and were used as wedding and social venues by the community.[7] The centrality of the clubrooms to the social lives of the community is apparent in the recollections of members from both clubs.

Tony Barbarich, who joined the Yugoslav Benevolent Society the first week he moved to Auckland, attended the club functions every Sunday. “We kept our community close”, he recalled, “and there was always something to do”, like the tamburica orchestra or kolo groups he joined.[8] For young Dalmatians at the time, the club was their principle social network. Post-war, most Yugoslav immigrants could not afford to send their children to university, and so instead they worked waged jobs and unwound with friends at weekly club events.[9]

Figure 3: Tony Babarich and his sister Zorka Boric dressed for the kolo. Source: Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society.


Franka Nola, who married into the orchard-owning Nola family, travelled in to the Yugoslav Club Inc. for over an hour from Oratia to see friends and family.[10] Earlier, she travelled from Hamilton every Friday to attend dances at the club, which is where she, like many other young Dalmatian women, met her husband. “He called me up one day”, she recollectedin 2015, “to invite me to the ball. And that was how we started going together”.[11]

The balls, so important for Dalmatians like Franka Nola in building her family, doubled as fundraising efforts. The clubs played a crucial role in relief efforts for Yugoslavia. World War II left Yugoslavia war-ravaged, with damaged infrastructure, food shortages, and staggering losses for every family in every village.[12] 

Both clubs organised annual balls to help raise money for the rebuild in Yugoslavia. In 1945, the Tenth Annual Yugoslav Ball was held in June. The invitation stated it was for “Yugoslav Relief Purposes”. There was a further ball held that same year, to help rebuild a hospital in Yugoslavia.[13] Over the next 20 years many more balls would be held, including in the iconic Auckland venue, the Town Hall. The clubs also sent invitations to people across Auckland, among them various mayors such as Sir Dove Meyer-Robinson, and the Vice Chancellor of Auckland University, Kenneth Maidment.[14] 

The evenings became well-respected spectacles, often reported on in the city’s papers for their cultural vibrancy. On 13 June 1945, the New Zealand Herald reported on the “most spectacular feature” of that year’s Benevolent Society ball: “the presentation of the kolo”.[15] In this way, the balls not only provided cultural connection for the Yugoslav community, but also brought their culture to the minds of Aucklanders. As New Zealanders and Dalmatians stood side by side watching the swirling circle of the kolo, understanding between the communities deepened. The symbolism of this photo of the dance in the Town Hall with the organ surrounded by the flags of New Zealand, Yugoslavia and a Communist hammer and sickle in 1945, is powerful.

Figure 4: Kolo in the Town Hall, 1945.


The clubs organised other relief efforts which drew support from across Auckland Society. In 1945, the Executive of the Yugoslav Club wrote to all of its members and sub-committees advising them they would be partaking in clothing and supplies drives.[16] During that year, the club was in frequent communication with the Auckland branch of the Red Cross.[17] 

In November 1945, the Herald covered the success of that clothing drive, reporting that “over 60 cases [of clothing] had been shipped”, and that the “Yugoslav community was already preparing for another shipment”.[18] Coverage of the fundraising attempts in the daily newspaper suggests the extent of the success of the drive, and indicates that wider Auckland society perceived the sense of community among Yugoslav immigrants. The same article also noted that the Benevolent Society and Yugoslav Club had worked together for the drive.[19] The provision of social support for Yugoslavia by both clubs not only helped immigrants feel they were helping their family in Yugoslavia, but also fostered connections within the Auckland community. 

Such connections were vitally important for an immigrant community under stress. I have learnt that there is no way to write a history of Dalmatian cultural activity in Auckland that does not immerse itself in the struggles of being Yugoslav. Following the Second World War, Auckland Dalmatians were concerned with how they were perceived by other Aucklanders.[20] At that time, many immigrants were regarded with suspicion. Tony Barbarich remembered the feeling, saying “people would talk. But we knew it wasn’t true what they said”.[21] “What they said” could refer to a key tension the community felt in the way they were labelled.

Dalmatia was home to the Partisan resistance. Many Dalmatians here knew that at home, their villages had lost members to retribution killings and the war. But to everyday Aucklanders, Dalmatians were often simply referred to as Yugoslavs, or Croatians, who were to be treated cautiously. Dalmatians wished to be seen as Dalmatians, and to restore their good relationship with New Zealanders. Trust, so effectively garnered over years of hard work during the first wave of migration to Auckland and Northland, was now at risk.[22] Perhaps for this reason, Tony Barbarich recounted feeling a sense of responsibility for the reputation of his entire community.[23] The need Dalmatians felt to strengthen the ‘Aucklander’ facet of their identity also intensified. 

Figure 5: A mural in Drašnice depicts retribution killings. Source: personal photo.


But there was a difficult balance to strike. The Auckland identity could not come at the cost of severing ties to home. For it was not only the climate in Auckland causing the community stress. Though Tito was initially popular, the years following the war were riddled with rumours about the conditions in the home country, exacerbated by the limitations on information from Yugoslavia itself. As the Herald reported, letters home had been banned and were only allowed to resume for bare “facts and information” in late 1945.[24] The restrictions and censorship only increased the feeling of distance, and therefore heightened the importance of the work the clubs did in building connections with other Yugoslavs. 

For these reasons, the opportunity to engage with their culture and be around those who shared their memories, fears and experiences, was critical for the community. But all the time, there was an underlying attempt to bring together communities which the war had almost driven apart. And so the clubs also helped Aucklanders understand who they and their members were, and where they had come from, and therefore assisted the process of repairing relations. In essence, the Dalmatian clubs provided a pathway through the Yugoslav community’s driving post-war struggle. The clubs were, at some core level, an attempt to harmonise two identities: Dalmatian and Aucklander.

[1]Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Archives, Dalmatians and the Inner City, Box 1.

[2]Andrew Trlin, Now Respected, Once Despised: Yugoslavs in New Zealand, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North, 1979.

[3]Tony Barbarich, oral history interview by Smita Biswas, 30 July 2-15, Record OH-1210-020, Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Collection, Special Collections, Auckland City Libraries.

[4]Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Museum, Display.

[5]Tony Barbarich; Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Archive, Dalmatians in the Inner City, Box 2.

[6]Stephen Jelicich, ‘The Yugoslav community’, lecture, 1990, University of Auckland Special Collections, New Zealand Glass Case, Cassette LC90-42.

[7]J.A. Canvin, ‘Yugoslavs in Auckland’, Masters Thesis in Anthropology, University of Auckland, 1970.



[10]Franka Nola, oral history interview by Smita Biswas, 28 July 2015, Record OH-1210-003, Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Collection, Auckland Central Library Special Collections.

[11]Franka Nola, oral history interview by Smita Biswas, 28 July 2015, Record OH-1210-003, Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society Collection, Auckland Central Library Special Collections.

[12]Marcus Tanner, Croatia: A history from the Middle Ages to the present day, Yale, 2019.

[13]Dalmatian Historical and Genealogical Society Archive, “Dalmatians in the Inner City”, Box 2.

[14]Dalmatian Historical and Genealogical Society Archive, Box 4/5-b, File A-14.

[15]New Zealand Herald, Volume 82, Issue 25222, 7 June 1945, p. 6, Papers Past,

[16]Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society, Box 4/5-b, File A-60.

[17]Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society, Box 4/5-b, File A-60.

[18]New Zealand Herald, Volume 82, Issue 25366, 22 November 1945, p. 9, from Papers Past,

[19]Dalmatian Genealogical and Historical Society, Box 4/5-b.

[20]J.A. Canvin, p. 51.

[21]Tony Barbarich.

[22]Tony Barbarich.

[23]Tony Barbarich.

[24]New Zealand Herald, Volume 82, Issue 25179, 17 April 1945, p. 4, from Papers Past.