A thick tapestry cloth resembling a floor rug on the table; the Delft-blue plates on the walls; the coloured biscuit tins ‘being useful’; the tompouce (custard square) or appeltaart (apple tart) to go with the coffee – it could be anybody’s Oma’s house. If you are a descendent of a Dutch immigrant and lucky enough to visit to Opa and Oma from time to time, walking into Zenders will be filled with nostalgia. And the story behind all these things not too dissimilar from those which inspired Zenders, either.
I’m guessing our family immigrant story is pretty typical of many post-World War Two European families, be they Dutch, Polish, Italian, English, French… Having lived through desperate times, our parents saw ‘the colonies’ as a place of hope, a place to make a new life far from the war-ravaged Europe they had grown up in. Being the youngest of thirteen children, my father always joked that all he would ever see of the family farm ‘was a spade-full of dirt, if he was lucky!’, so the opportunity to start fresh was appealing, encouraged by governments like New Zealand’s. Before they knew it, their immigrant application was accepted and soon they embarked on the ‘Waterman’ for a six-week voyage; a short passage of time, a momentous shift of future.
Passing through such exotic places as the Panama Canal and Tahiti - where the bananas grew along the side of the road and oranges dropped from the trees - New Zealand struck them as a raw and young country. The houses looked like ‘Sommer huisjes’ (beach baches) and the hillsides so green. Landing with little more than suitcases, my parents took the first jobs going – farm work for Dad, and housekeeping for mum. They continued this line of work, eventually on their own property and with their own children, as did many a Dutch family, continuing the farming story in New Zealand as their families had in The Netherlands.
Over 65 years later, and their legacy stands for us all to share at Zenders. The café is as ‘gezellig’ (warm, friendly and cosy) as Oma’s best front room; the ‘Zaal’, where once cows would have been wintered and hay stored in the loft, is now a modern, industrial and practical space for gathering; the foyer, which once would have been the creamery where the milk from the cows was made into butter and cream before being sent off to market, is now a light and airy reception room; and the Orange Room, which on the original blueprints hanging in the foyer show would have housed the pigsty, so that the whey from the cheese-making could be utilised (nothing went to waste!) – is now a pleasant, light-filled room for smaller gatherings.
Zenders is ‘Our place’; our homestead, our turangawaewae, our landmark. Come and make it ‘Your place’ for the day.