by JEFF DILLON
Some Christmas presents can provide a great sense of gratitude for what the gift represents. This has proved to be the case for Cecylia Klobukowska, one of the nine founding members of the Polish Heritage of Otago and Southland Charitable Trust.
Mrs Klobukowska was presented with the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland on Christmas Day. The presentation was by the Polish ambassador to New Zealand, Zbigniew Gniatkowski, after Christmas Day Mass at the historic Mary Queen of Peace church in Broad Bay near Dunedin.
The Polish knighthood was in recognition of the commitment and work that Mrs Klobukowska has put in over many years highlighting Polish heritage in the southern part of this country. Formed in 1998 during Otago’s 150th celebrations of its settlement, the trust’s aim was to cherish the contribution of the early Polish settlers who came to the Dunedin area in 1872 in a ship named Palmerston.
The Christmas presentation was appropriate since the original settlers, after being held in quarantine for several weeks near Port Chalmers, finally reached Dunedin by Christmas Day, 1872.
Soon most of the new settlers shifted just south of Dunedin to Allanton and Waihola for work on the building of the railway line from Dunedin to Balclutha.
It was at Waihola that eventually, in 1899, the families built a wooden church that was named St Hyacinth’s.
As the years passed and families moved, the congregation diminished. So in 1948 the building was transported in two sections down the Otago Peninsula and set up in Broad Bay and renamed Mary Queen of Peace as a parish church for regular Sunday Masses.
In a recent interview, Mrs Klobukowska said she and her husband and their family emigrated to New Zealand in 1986, initially to Oamaru. They moved to Dunedin by 1993 and Mrs Klobuskowska began doing some relief teaching. Then a remarkable set of coincidences began to take place. At one school she mentioned her Polish nationality to another teacher who happened to live in Broad Bay. That person mentioned the Polish connection with the church. She also happened to be the custodian of the church key. She invited her to visit.
On her first acquaintance with the church, Mrs Klobukowska went in and sat in the front pew taking in the details of her surroundings and imagining its history.
Then she became aware that she was sitting on something. Puzzled she looked and found she was sitting on an old coin. Poles have a tradition that if you find a coin then you should pick it up as it is lucky. She picked it up and on closer inspection saw it was an old, pre decimal currency penny. On even closer inspection she discovered it was dated 1948, the same year the former Polish church had been moved. She still has that coin today.
She also discovered that, just before coming to Dunedin, that those early Polish settlers had come from the Kociewie area in North Poland, the same as she had. In fact, as she was to discover in her searching, the family names were all familiar names from her own village and provincial area.
These discoveries encouraged her to develop links with local descendants of those first Polish settlers and more recent migrants such as the post WWII wave and again those who came in the 1980s onwards like herself. This led to the decision to get recognition for the Polish settlers of the 1870s and have them included in the 150th celebrations for Dunedin and the Otago province.
The trust was formed to unearth and protect and maintain the heritage. Mrs Klobukowska is one of just two remaining foundation members of the trust. She has been active on the trust board in various capacities throughout its 20 year existence and has been a driving force behind many of its activities and events. Getting the historic nature of the church recognised and protected by the Dunedin diocese had been one of those achievements.
When she was presented with the knighthood by the Polish ambassador she acknowledged that the honour was really an award to all the Polish trust members, since what had been achieved over the last 20 years would not have been possible without the help of all those involved.