OF ALL the migrants to carve a new life in Tasmania few have had such an impact as the Dutch and among them, none stands taller than business entrepreneur Rudie Sypkes.  Spykes died in Hobart on February 8th, aged 57, after a two-year battle with a rare lung disease.

The British aside, the Dutch are the largest group of migrants in Australia, the biggest influx occurring in the 1950s. (There are an estimated 30,000 people in Tasmania who were born in The Netherlands or were born to Dutch parents). Rudie was one when his parents, Engel and Annie, emigrated in 1951. They came by plane – on the same flight as the Vos family, who established the Roelf Vos supermarket chain in northern Tasmania.

Engel established Purity supermarkets in southern Tasmania, selling his 13 stores to Woolworths in 1980. His sons Rudie (Roelf) and Peter established the Chickenfeed cut-price chain, selling to Millers Retail in 2001. Other businesses included Rudie Sypkes & Associates, an investment advisory company. Rudie’s business interests also included real estate in Queensland and oil in Texas.

I interviewed Rudie in 2005 for an in-depth feature on the Dutch in Tasmania for the Mercury newspaper, for which I then worked. The many tributes to Rudie that have been published since his death have touched on his business acumen, his generosity to others and his love of family. All true. But underpinning everything he did was his Christian faith, which led him into unknown territory.

To quote from my story in the Mercury, published on July 2nd 2005: “His enterprises are not all about making money, although anything he touches is likely to do so. It’s not widely known but at a time when Tasmania is looking towards openings in South Korea, Sypkes is involved in business ventures in North Korea.

“It sounds unlikely that a conservative Christian capitalist, who has moved between the Reformed Church, the Plymouth Brethren Church and the Church of Christ, would want to do business with a communist regime – but it isn’t only about business, It’s about social responsibility.

“Sypkes makes money available to trust banks which give small low-interest loans to help people become self-sufficient. Loans are made for a 26-week term, with weekly advice given to borrowers, the aim being to make people self-sufficient within three years. ‘We have a 98 per cent success rate in repaying loans, with 90 per cent of them women,’ he says.

“He is involved also in a joint venture with the (North Korean) Ministry of Finance, designed to train people to operate in the marketplace, a scheme which took 18 difficult months to set up. The Government is unable to fund factories and since 2002, has agreed to let workers keep any profits if they can get the finance needed to keep going.

“ ‘North Korea has massive building and roads, built by the Russians before 1994,’ says Sypkes, ‘but the huge factories are empty. One day, when North and South Korea reunite – which they will – the country will leap ahead. It’s got the infrastructure and the people who have the heart and desire to make something of it.’ “

Margaretta Pos

“It sounds unlikely that a conservative Christian capitalist, who has moved between the Reformed Church, the Plymouth Brethren Church and the Church of Christ, would want to do business with a communist regime – but it isn’t only about business, It’s about social responsibility. “Sypkes makes money available to trust banks which give small low-interest loans to help people become self-sufficient. Loans are made for a 26-week term, with weekly advice given to borrowers, the aim being to make people self-sufficient within three years. ‘We have a 98 per cent success rate in repaying loans, with 90 per cent of them women,’ he says. “He is involved also in a joint venture with the (North Korean) Ministry of Finance, designed to train people to operate in the marketplace, a scheme which took 18 difficult months to set up. The Government is unable to fund factories and since 2002, has agreed to let workers keep any profits if they can get the finance needed to keep going.