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Dragon far from home

Robert Hopkins testing his new boat

Last updated: 12 January 2006

Robert Hopkins emigrated to Aotearoa, Wellington, New Zealand, from Aberdaron over 20 years ago. He describes what it's like to be a Welshman down under, and how he misses his old homeland.

"Hiraeth is something all Welsh folk feel from time to time when away from the place. It's something you try to explain in English to those who don't quite understand the depth of feeling involved in this little word, and fail to truly convey the passion involved.

I came here just over 20 years ago from Pen Llyn as I was involved in the oil industry, and today I build high tech boats with a passion. I often think of the wild seas of Aberdaron, when a south westerly blasted the coast and lifted the sea to frightening heights, to a point where the wash from the surf came into the village and left mounds of sand in the road. But during all of that, a small clinker-built boat of a local fisherman navigated close to the rocks for his lobster pots. Remarkable sea, unremarkable boat and a testament to amazing boatmanship.

In the formative years after arriving, you are clinging on to the things you know and understand. You deal with the new through sticking with your new-found fellow Welsh friends abroad. After a while though, the links diminish due to people moving on and the re-focusing of your life. This may sound rather sad in some ways, but on the contrary.

There is no more fervent a Welsh person than the one living far from their mother country. In fact I would go so far as to say that after a while, you become more Welsh than the Welsh themselves and the pride in the country is insurmountable. I have a theory as to why... but for another day perhaps.

I suppose that the most difficult part of being a Welsh Kiwi is the rugby! Well, here we are and the World Cup is being enacted over our local ditch (Aussi for all the Aussies who don't understand - kiwi hat) and Wales is there in the thick of it. Oh! What glory if they were in the final! And what to wear if it's Wales and the ABs(All Blacks)? As a man living in Wellington I can't wear the Canterbury colours of red and black, no - no fence sitting here - I would have to go in red.

The last time I went to see Wales in action against the ABs was here in Wellington. We came back from the game (Wales lost by a sadly predictable margin) and as we passed some of the local gardens with the silver fern flag flying and people partying, the chant from the gardens was 'we have the technology, we can rebuild you'. Well, it's been a number of years since then and one of the technicians from NZ went to Wales (one 'King' Henry). Did he and others make the difference? I hope so. I will fly the flag on the day when Wales play, just to remind those that there is a living dragon and it may have been rebuilt!

Robert Hopkins and his twin daughters Felicity and Siân

The passion here is unparalleled in respect of rugby, and only one other country can understand it and that is Wales. North Wales in the main has not had the same passion as the south for rugby. That said, one of the things that stopped work and allowed my much-missed uncle Jack and I to watch TV in the afternoon would be an international, especially if it were England v Wales; back in the days of Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams & co, the tri-nations and the grand slam. Halcyon days!

The north of Wales has always been the Welsh end of Wales. The language survived in its older form and even with the visitors thronging on to the beaches and eventually into the houses, it still survived. The language is an important and major flag bearer for Wales. Not all can speak it, but without it a huge chunk of the culture is gone. Long may it survive.

What I miss, other than speaking the language on a day-to-day basis, are the characters who have gone, just like the sailing ships before them. Like Willie Minafon, a sailor of the old type, who went round the Horn on sailing ships and polished his gum boots to go to the pub. He's a character I will always hold in my heart with fondness and a certain amount of melancholy as a time gone by in Aberdaron.

I miss the things that are bound to be missed; the fleeting things we all take for granted at the time. Mine are like others, but with different names - family, friends and Willie - a long way away.

One day soon we will be coming back to Wales again, that is a certainty. And this next time with the whole family. The twin girls (14 years old) have only heard stories and seen pictures. They were born here and are Kiwi, but there is something else in the core though! This is evident when Wales and New Zealand play (yes rugby). We had the house full of red and black balloons everywhere and the girls wore red (no prompting from me - honest!) Everyone had to bring an appropriate colour to wear, and the score was not the important thing - it was atmosphere and the passion for the game!

They look forward to seeing Wales and my youth in tactile form and I their comments and understanding of where they came from.

During my visit, you never know, on a walk across the valleys and hills I may stumble and wake a sleeping dragon, and Wales will win the World Cup... next time perhaps."

Dave from Machynlleth did the opposite and left NZ for Wales ...

your comments

Lyn Williams (Auckland)
Hello Robert, It was lovely to read your story. My Dad was born in Aberdaron and my sister and I have just returned from a trip there to scatter my fathers ashes, over 60 years after he left there as a young man in search of work in the south east. We stayed in Wild Thyme and had his wake at Ty Newydd and a few pints in The Ship. We visited Ty Capel and Dowfor (sp?), both houses he lived in as well as a few years in Bryncroes. Would love to e-mail you and see if we have any people in common. That little village in the edge of the Llyn is a place that is hard to shake from your heart isn't it? Not that I would ever want to.
Wed May 14 10:56:09 2008

William Lloyd Davies
Hello to all Welsh Ex Pats in NZ. Me and my partner Cath have today opened a WELSH Restaurant & Bar in Taupo. We are in the north end of town on Tongariro Street, you can see the Dragon as you drive in from the North on SH1. Mae pob croeso i bob Cymro yma a mi fydd yn falch gennym ni glywed gan unrhyw un sydd yn meddwl crwydro i Taupo. Hwyl fawr a da iawn Cymru dydd Sadwrn diwetha. Wil a Cath
Wed Mar 19 11:48:18 2008

Jim Evans from Creigiau/Ammanford
My wife and I spent a few happy hours in the Welsh pub in Wellington one day in March 2007. We were told they were awaiting a fresh consignment of Brains beer. Any Welsh person who visits the pub is immediately and enthusiastically introduced by the publican to all the other Welsh people in the pub at the time (and there were quite a few). You are assured of a great welcome by the host, you drink great beer and eat excellent food in an atmosphere that is just like home (you can't ask for more). It's a great night out - don't miss it.
Fri Sep 28 14:30:54 2007

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