Friday, 26 April 2019


“Aliens” in Whitianga

When Mercury Bay resident, Katarina Lee, visited her mother one sunny afternoon in August this year, their conversation took an unexpected turn. This is Katarina’s recollection of what happened that afternoon.

We were sitting on the patio of my mother’s Sovereign Pier apartment in Whitianga, when my mum, Birgitta Brink-Maisey, suddenly announced, “It’s a special day today, 50 years since we’ve arrived in Whitianga.”

“I can’t remember much about that,” I replied. “But we’ll have a drink and celebrate anyway.”

“It was June 1968, back in southern Sweden. You were only three-and-a-half when your detective sergeant pappa told us we were emigrating on an Italian passenger ship to New Zealand. We had to catch a train to Holland to board the ship, Flavia, from Rotterdam.”   

“How old were you Mum?”

“Twenty-nine and rather nervous at the thought of having you and your two brothers on a ship for six weeks,”

I fixed my mother a drink. “I assume my brothers had a memorable adventure,” I said.  

“Oh yes, Kristofer was eight and Hans was six, so they were allowed swim in two of the three swimming pools on the ship, the men’s pool and the kiddies’ pool. They had an absolute ball, despite the cramped cabin.”

“I don’t remember going through the Panama Canal, but I remember things about crossing the equator.”

“I’m not surprised, what a celebration that was,” my mum giggled. “The captain of the Flavia, dressed as King Neptune, ordered his regal servants to put the passengers through a bizarre set of initiations. Luckily you kids were just smeared in jelly and ice cream.

“And look I even found your ‘Crossing the Equator Certificate,’” my mother said as she showed me a blue card.

“Really?” I read the ornately typed card. Indeed, I was duly named ‘Oyster.’”

“I remember Tahiti and paddling in those canoe out-riggers with friendly Tahitian children,” I said.

“Yes, you and your brothers all played for hours.

“We finally arrived in Auckland and your Pappa practised his English with a lady on the dock. ‘Nice frog,’ He told her. She kindly corrected him, ‘Frock.’”

‘We came to Whitianga after your father saw the Coromandel in the newspaper with low house prices. We were all so enchanted by the forest-clad mountains.”

I nodded. Southern Sweden is pretty flat, except for the mounds that are the graves of the Viking kings.

“And here’s the first letter I sent to my parents in Sweden,” my mother said.

“Read it Mum.”


‘Dear Mamma and Pappa,

‘We’ve arrived in New Zealand and it’s so beautiful here in Whitianga. We drove over mountains on endless serpentine roads with three carsick children, but it was worth it! I’ve been told that Whitianga has a population of 700, which swells to over 9,000 over Christmas and New Years!

‘Many tall palms line the long beach and they have deep sea fishing here. There are hot mineral pools nearby, where people have to dig holes in the sand. The children paddle on the shore and hundreds of sea birds swoop and dive just near us. Hans has started school. It’s just a short walk from our $10 per week motel in Hannan Road.’”

I interrupted, “So why did we leave here mum?”

“Your father bought a house in Hillsborough in Auckland. And you and your brothers learned to speak English so quickly! Before we knew it you were Kiwis.”

“Mum,” I sipped my drink, remembering, “I always gazed at the mountains, they imprinted themselves on my life. Years later I would pretend the clouds on the horizon were mountains.”

“That’s amazing sweetheart, you found your mountains again.”

My mother grinned as she handed me another document. “Did you know we became registered as ‘aliens’ in New Zealand?”  

I read the old typed script, “Application for Registration as Aliens.” “How politically incorrect that would be these days,” I thought.

My mother showed me many of her memories. Letters to the homeland held news of mum and dad building a successful electrical appliance business in Papakura, some may recall ‘Brinks TV,’ and our sailing adventures around the east coast of New Zealand, including a few Fiji voyages. Uncles, aunts and even my grandfather came to visit and sail around with us.

My partner since 1993 and husband of six years, Jorma Lee, grew up in Mercury Bay. In 2007, we waved suburbia goodbye and moved onto Jorma’s parents’ property in Comers Road between Whitianga and Coroglen. It was a dream come true. Back with my mountains, I was in my element, writing and painting while we raised our son, James.

The only thing missing was my wonderful mother. So we encouraged her to sell up after she retired from working for the Swedish Consulate in Auckland. Now she lives here in sunny Whitianga and I’m the luckiest daughter ever!

My “Rolling Stone” dad sailed from New Zealand in 1978, cruising around the world for 20 years, settling first in Brazil and later in Spain.

For me, “alien” or not, things have come a full circle indeed.



Should small businesses and farms be made subject to capital gains tax?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.