Topic: Marino Yuretich: From Podgora to Puhata by Judy Nieuwendijk

Topic type:

A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

I remember the day I first met Marino Yuretich. It was a balmy Far North day in the summer of 1965 and Vincent, his third son and I had come to a family barbecue at Ahipara on Ninety Mile Beach. Vince and I had been dating for some months and now he wanted me to ‘meet the parents’, Marino and Milica.

Driving to the beach, my stomach was in a knot, I felt sick; would they like me? I loved their son; we planned to spend the rest of our lives together. The more Vince spoke of his parents with such pride and affection of their resilience, their culture, their deep-rooted family ties, the more I was aware of being different. I was not a Dally or a ‘Tarara’ as Dalmatians were known and I thought his parents would prefer Vince to marry one of their own.

Fortunately I passed the test, his parents liked me. Little did I know then the profound significance they would have on my life.

Vince and I married, and I came to love and respect these two proud people of Dalmatia. Marino had a fierce intellect and although for the most part he was self-taught, his general knowledge was extensive, he held forthright opinions on politics, religion, social values and loved a vigorous debate. He was a gifted teller of stories; I would listen spellbound to his exotic tales, especially those of his life in Podgora which he had left long years before.

Clustered on the rocky foothills of the bleak, barren Dinaric Alps, Podgora was a hamlet of simple stone houses and churches a few kilometres south of Makarska in the Split-Dalmatia county of Croatia.

The name Podgora means ‘by the tree’, but centuries before under the rule of the city-state of Venice, the limestone mountains were stripped of trees to build Venetian houses and ships, leaving a barren, hostile moonscape.

Life was hard; the people of Podgora lived in extreme poverty barely eking out a living from the sea and the stony land. Soil was scarce so every scrap of dirt was precious and gardens were protected from the wind and leaching by low stone walls. Buckets of soil would be carried long distances to gardens. Sometimes a little money could be made from the sale of olive oil and wine, but in the late 1890s the vicious vine disease Phylloxera decimated the vines resulting in even more hardship for families.

Into this harsh environment on August 13th 1896 Marino was born, the first child of Vicko and Kata Juretic. He was to be the oldest of ten children and with each successive birth the poverty of his family increased. As with the other families in the village everyone was required to work, even the children, so from a very young age Marino knew what it was to work hard.

From the mid-1850s men began to leave the grinding poverty, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. The increasing population was putting greater pressure on scarce land, and Dalmatia being under the oppressive rule of Austria, men were eager to escape conscription into the Austrian army.

Four of Marino’s uncles; Luka (Luke), Peter, Dan and Mate Lunjevic had left Podgora for New Zealand with their wives and families. Luke, Peter and Dan were farming at Puhata near Herekino in North Auckland on land given by the government to establish a vineyard.

In 1908, because his family was so poor, Marino was sent to New Zealand with his uncle Marino to work on the Puhata farm. Imagine the tumult of emotions within the 12-year old boy. He was leaving all that was familiar; his mother, father, brothers and sisters, neighbours and kinsfolk he had worked beside, played and prayed with, the mountains, the rocks and the sea which had formed the fabric of his life. His world had consisted of a few kilometres only - would he ever see it again?

I consider my sons, my grandsons at age twelve. Would they or could they have coped in that situation? I imagine for Marino the experience honed his fierce determination, his resourcefulness, his drive to succeed.

In Puhata, as in Podgora, he was expected to work hard and as all the families were living in the one house he would have had little time or energy to be homesick. When he was 18, he joined the many Dalmatians already working in the thriving gum industry. Extracting and cleaning the gum was back-breaking work however he garnered many entertaining stories of capers on the gumfields.

Like others at that time, Marino worked a variety of jobs; for some time he drove a taxi between Awanui and Herekino for his brother Alexander, the only other member of his family to come to New Zealand from Podgora.

Although far away, Podgora was ever close to Marino’s heart. Nourished by the cuisine, the customs and traditions of Dalmatia, he and the other migrants kept alive the way of life and the language and were always hungry for news of their homeland.

On 23rd April, 1930 Marino married Milica Marinovic, also from Podgora.

The story he told about meeting the ship bringing Milica and other young women from Dalmatia to New Zealand, enthralled me. Vince and I had chosen to marry after getting to know each other. However, although they were from the same village, at the beginning of their life together Marino and Milica were strangers. Yet their marriage was strong; they were welcoming, hospitable people and excellent company. They were blessed with six children; first two daughters then four sons. Their family was their pride and joy, and they took immense delight in their grandchildren.

In 1937 Marino bought a sheep and dry stock farm in Herekino where they lived until his sons took over working the farm and he and Milica retired to Kaitaia to a house which he had built. Retirement was as busy as their working life had been; fishing, working their huge garden, socialising, and enjoying their family.

My in-laws introduced me to the exotic foods and flavours of Dalmatian cuisine which I found exhilarating after the wholesome but plain food of my upbringing. My favourite was Bakalar, a stew of dried cod, potatoes and lots of garlic, and their custom of enjoying wine with our meals was one I embraced with fervour. 

In 1965 Marino and Milica went back to Podgora; what a sad homecoming for them. A severe earthquake in 1962 had rendered many of the homes in the old village uninhabitable. I imagine their grief as they took in the damage to their childhood homes and their memories.

On Thursday May 28th 1970 our lives changed forever. Four years after we married, Vince was killed in a tractor accident on the farm.

Marino, Milica and the family enfolded me and our three children close to them. We moved from the farm into Kaitaia, our lives became ever more entwined with Marino and Milica and my love for them grew beyond words.

As were we all, Marino was devastated by Vincent’s death; a child was not supposed to die before the parent. A light went out in his life and four years later on 5th January 1974, Marino died; his legacy - a strong, devoted and close-knit family.

After the earthquake in Podgora, the government ordered a new village be built at sea level which is now a popular tourist resort promoted as the Jewel of the Makarska Riviera. Hordes of tourists from colder, northern Europe swarm here to sprawl on the beach, throng the cafes and restaurants and enjoy the Mediterranean-like climate.

In 2004 with my second husband Fons, I spent some time there. Each morning we would leave the tourist resort and climb the ancient pathways webbing the rocky hills to the old village where Marino and Milica had lived. Treading the stone steps past the stone walls of the overgrown vineyards, we would imagine Marino carrying buckets of soil or bringing the fish up these paths all those years ago.

Standing before the simple two-storied stone house in which he and his large family had lived, we wondered at the cramped conditions they would have endured. And in the garden, the vegetables struggling to grow among the stones brought home to us the hardship the people of Podgora still face in these times.

Vince and I had dreamed of visiting Podgora so for me to go there, to the village which had given me Marino and Milica, was a privilege, a homage and a pilgrimage of love.


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Marino Yuretich: From Podgora to Puhata by Judy Nieuwendijk

Year:c.1937 and c.1965
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License
Marino Yuretich: From Podgora to Puhata by Judy Nieuwendijk by Tauranga City Libraries Staff - HC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License