Dolf Lanting RIP

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Personal Profile – Dolf Lanting

By Clive Dalton, Waikato Guild of Woodworkers

Dolf was born in Amsterdam in 1928 where his father was an accountant for a company that imported and exported goods like tobacco, tea and spices which came from Indonesia, which at that time was part of the Dutch East Indies. This was a global trade and all the paper work arrived in the Amsterdam head office

Dolf’s uncle was in the plantations in Indonesia where for every Dutch employee, one year of service counted for two, so he retired at age 45 and moved to Switzerland. Dolf’s mother was born in Indonesia but came back to Holland at the age of four for her education.

Dolf’s father progressed through the company and bought a bigger house out of town which then became a liability when the slump came in the 1930s. The slump was bad but worse was to come when Holland’s neighbours came calling, uninvited with Hitler’s Panzers in 1939, and with intentions of staying. Dolf was 12 when they arrived.

After primary school there was a two-year lull in education as schools were closed. Dolf then went to a Polytech, and then in the last year of the war he went to work on farm for a few weeks belonging to friends near the German border. However the D Day invasion took place so he could not get back home for a year. He was then16 and at age 17 with the locals had to work for the Germans digging trenches for the invasion that had landed in Normandy. They thought the war would be all over after the famous Arnham raid but sadly that was a disaster.

After things settled down and his education completed, Dolf got an apprenticeship with a builder. The system was to do the polytech course and then join a builder. Then he did more at night school for more drafting training with ambitions to become an architect – but military service got in the way. In Holland young men had to do three years compulsory training – one year in Holland and two in Indonesia.

In Dolf’s last year in Indonesia Sokano had taken over so there was nothing to do. During this time the troops were given lectures about possible countries they could emigrate to – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. Dolf went to the lectures but he felt he had to go home to his family – and his tools were in Holland.

But he only lasted nine months before opting for New Zealand in 1951. In those days Dolf said, there was very little information about New Zealand and on his Dad’s advice thought NZ sounded better. Dolf paid his own fare and had enough money to go back just in case!

Sadly for Dolf, all the Dutch schools taught French, German and English, but from going from primary to polytech this was not required. So Dolf did not speak a word of English. Undaunted he took off by train from Amsterdam to Genoa in Italy when he boarded a liner heading for Sydney. He then crossed the Tasman in the good ship Wanganella to arrive in Wellington on Labour Day 1951 in a howling gale and raining cats and dogs.

He was met by John Ballard who picked him up and took him away on the back of his motorbike! John had emigrated to NZ from the Ballard firm Dolf had worked for in Holland. John was boarding so he found Dolf a bed in the YMCA in Willis street where he stayed for a week. He then found board with a landlady who was never sober.

Dolf was offered a job for Smith & Smith building glass houses on the Kapati Coast, but he then got a job with a builder after showing him his Dutch qualifications that he had translated. The builder was not impressed asking what the ****** ***** these were? He said you just come on Monday and show me what you can do.

Dolf started on a house in Korori with a gang who also taught him English! He had a bit of revising to do! He worked there for 11 years, then 9 months in Blenheim, then after a short spell in Wellington again after meeting his second wife Meryl and her suggestion they came to the Waikato.

Dolf put an ad in the paper and got a job with Ivan Parker who built houses in 1962. Dolf for example did all those houses around the lake and he says it’s interesting for him now going round town looking at what he built. He always enjoyed the challenges of building houses that were just a little bit different.

He was so sick of steep sections in Wellington that when in Hamilton they were looking for a section they were adamant that it had to be level! Thirty eight years later they were still on that level section.

After 20 years with Ivan Parker, Dolf wanted to partly retire so he started making kitchen joinery for 11 years from home in his enlarged garage. He did this by building a new garage over the old one which he then extracted!   He did some big jobs but also a lot of small ones for Apollo mobile homes. He got to hate these as they’d come with an order on Friday afternoon saying they wanted it by next week.

Dolf went back to Holland to a family reunion in 1997 when at age 69 he decided to really retire. When overseas Dolf had a chest pain so that made him think about his future. When he came back Meryl had enrolled him in the Waikato Polytech woodturning course with Fred Irvine. Dolf had two sessions with Fred and still has the handle, which was the result of his first formal lesson! Dolf recognises that Fred really got him going into turning and opened up a whole new range of exercises for the mind.

Dolf says his mother was artistic and the genes have been passed on to his daughter. Dolf has always been keen to see and study the work of others. “That’s the way you learn” he says.


Dolf is keen to go with the flow in his work with no formal paths to follow. He developed a great interest in adding decoration and textures and has been greatly stimulated by the work of Terry Scott with the Sorby texturing tool and Graeme Priddle with his hot wire work.

Dolf always draws plans before he starts a project – something that some of us could benefit from. Dolf says he saw very little turning on his trip to Holland and how lucky we are with all the wonderful woods we have in New Zealand.

Dolf continued turning and decorating his work well into his retirement, sharing his skills and advice with other club members. He passed away in September 2021 aged 93.

Dr Clive Dalton studied agriculture in the UK before teaching animal production at Leeds University. Before retirement he taught agriculture at Wintec. He is a founding member of the Guild and edited a blog recording the interests and activities of members over several years.