Student Emile Donovan muses on his love of
Much like those sea lions, is Dunedin somewhat
I find Orientation Week in Dunedin fascinating, if only for
the aesthetic effect an influx of 20,000 young people into a
modestly sized city offers. In the blink of an eye, the
sleepy streets of summer are flooded with new faces - a new
generation of Scarfies eager to snatch their freshly lit
torches of independence and disappear down the rabbit hole of
the university year.
I found it especially interesting this year because I
returned from my own holiday quite early, in late December,
and was therefore privy to a Dunedin that not many of my
peers actually experience: Dunedin in the summer.
Fairly or unfairly, this city has a few stigmas associated
with its name around New Zealand: riotous Dunedin, Scarfie
HQ; the city in which a tribe of naked 18-year-olds sprinting
through the Octagon at 5 o'clock on a Tuesday evening is
merely an initiation; where no wheelie-bin is safe; and where
drunk students topple out of trees like pheasants in Danny,
the Champion of the World. Chilly Dunedin, where the sun
don't shine, where the moon don't glow, where chilling your
beers means leaving them on the front porch, because - wait
for it - it's colder than the fridge.
What was strange about staying over the holiday period was
witnessing how one-dimensional this view of the city is.
This is the Impermanent Dunedin: the one that ebbs and flows
according to the time of year. It is set on the stage of
Northeast Valley and the varsity campus. Its players are the
youth of the nation, released from the shackles of parental
guardianship. This Dunedin is glamorous, because it is a
hotbed of controversy: it's where the kids go, and where
there are kids, there's mischief.
What people forget is that Dunedin has a base. There is a
foundation of families and professionals on which tertiary
Dunedin is allowed to thrive, and the reason we students are
so lucky is that this foundation is so embracing of us.
I can still remember my first day at varsity back in 2010: I
was walking along Great King St on February 19 and everybody
I walked past gave me a smile and a ''hello''. I thought it
was strange at first, but that's just how it is here. We are
treated with respect, because we bring a lot to the city, and
the foundation is mindful enough to accommodate us.
This foundation is Permanent Dunedin: people who smile at
passers-by and chat with the lady at the checkout counter,
many of whom can be connected through three degrees of
separation. This Dunedin boasts the population of a small
city, but maintains the genial intimacy of a large town.
This Dunedin moves slowly, and that is a good thing - it
means you have time to take a look around and revel in the
harmony of the place. Half an hour can take you out to the
peninsula, to the freshest salt air and the coldest water you
could imagine; it can take you to the top of a mountain, or
for a walk through the most beautiful Botanic Garden in the
country. Out past Portobello on Victory Beach there is a
colony of sea lions. They're big and powerful and you'd be
forgiven for finding them intimidating. Most of the time
though, they are gentle and docile creatures, content to
sunbathe on the coast and roll around in the sand.
Much like those sea lions, I find Dunedin somewhat
misunderstood. Modern Dunedin is a tale of two cities: on one
side there is the student utopia, of parties and riots, booze
and (sometimes) books; on the other, there is the measured,
tolerant nucleus. They are like our parents: they shake their
heads at our antics, and they chastise us at times, but they
bear with us. They love us. They recognise our value.
I am a student, and I am sheltered. I live in my microcosm,
and 20,000 others live in a similar bubble.
But after this summer, I've learned something: Dunedin may be
labelled a ''university city''; it might be stigmatised as
Party Central and typecast as Scarfieville, but this town is
about much more than its university. Dunedin is a funny old
place, full of funny old people, but I love it. It bears with
me while I grow up. It's home away from home. It's welcome
and secure, and those feelings of welcome and security are
largely thanks to you.
Thanks for having me.