Spectrum 611. The long road from Gujarat

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Tono kōrero mai

Jelal "Mick" Natali left Gujarat, India in 1920 and migrated to New Zealand in search of a better life and adventure. He worked first in a hotel in Rotorua, where he met and married another employee, and English woman named Kate.

He then moved to work in a store in the tiny King Country settlement of Waimiha. He explains his nickname came from his support for Irish Home Rule, when working in the hotel kitchen.

Aged 89, he talks to Alwyn Owen about his life in New Zealand which began nearly 70 years ago. In 1986 he was awarded the Q.S.M. for his services to the community.

He arrived in New Zealand in a party of 25 Gujarati migrants. He says he was the 'black sheep' of the family, so his parents supported him emigrating, as he was unsettled ever since leaving school.

He was one of the only migrants in the group who had good English, so he wrote and translated for the others. He got a job as a kitchenman-porter in the Australian Empire Hotel in Rotorua.

He describes the discrimination against Indians in New Zealand in the 1920s with the Immigration Restriction Act limiting Indian and Chinese migrants, and prejudice against 'coloured people' in Pukekohe, with the White New Zealand League. He was not allowed into public baths with other visitors, and wrote letters to the newspapers about the discrimination he experienced. He says it was better in Rotorua because of the large Māori population.

His wife-to-be was a housemaid in the same hotel. They were married and then moved to a job managing a store in Waimiha. He says his parents were not impressed at him marrying a white girl, but he was always a 'rebel' and had not supported the caste system in India, despite coming from an orthodox Hindu family.Some New Zealanders found his mixed marriage problematic also, but he says they were happy and 62 years later are still married.

He describes a King Country store in the 1920s, which sold everything from firearms to drapery, petrol, groceries and farm supplies. Returned soldiers were still being settled on blocks and Sir Apirana Ngata was encouraging Māori to farm their land. However, low butterfat prices meant farmers were suffering and he had to give credit to many families to keep them in food.

Sawmilling began in Waimiha and in 1936 when the Labour government started building state houses, there was high demand for timber. He talks about giving credit to customers but says most paid up regularly. He says Māori customers were highly honourable and if they knew they owed him money they wouldn't come to the store for supplies, even if they were hungry. So he would visit their homes and insist they took flour and sugar until they could repay him.

He says there was very little crime at the time. He says some Irishmen who were working on the roads had problems with alcohol. He tells a story about a man charging a train fare from Auckland to his Railway Department account.

He recalls Reiti Wharekoka a local tohunga and chief who was well-respected, his daughter Lizzie was very clever and would play many musical instruments by ear. She would accompany moving pictures shown in the Māori pā every week. A Māori man Billy Stafford was hired to show the films. Mick bought out the man who ran the picture show. Then he built a bigger hall next to his store in 1929 and talkies came in, so he bought a talkies machine and a generator to power it and light the hall and shop. He ran two school buses and also used them to bring mill workers to see the pictures.

During the Depression people would call in looking for work, which he didn't have, but his wife used to give them food and a bed for the night.

When the Labour government came in, new roads were put in from Te Kuiti to Piopio, so his petrol sales skyrocketed. He bought a mill, King Country Timber Limited and a boarding house in Waimiha. There were 14 mills in Waimiha.

He says he missed contact with Indian culture, although there were a few Sikhs working on farms, but other Gujaratis were all in Wellington and Auckland. He was in Waimiha for 26 years and ended up also owning some farms and land near Taumarunui. He then bought property in Auckland and began investing in property there.

He says he lost a couple of million dollars in the 1987 sharemarket crash, mentioning Brierly and Crown Corporation shares, in particular.

Mick says he is a man of modest tastes, enjoys a drink but doesn't drive any more. He regards himself as a Kiwi, but still loves India and Indians, although he doesn't want to live there.

Alwyn ends by reading a letter Mick wrote to the New Zealand Herald after the 1987 stock market crash.

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Request information

Year 1988

Reference number 17153

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Natali, Jelal Kalyanji, 1899-1993, Interviewee
Owen, Alwyn (b.1926), Producer

Duration 00:28:59

Date 1988

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