Revelry mostly has been responsible

Students dance at a Leith St party on Wednesday night. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Students dance at a Leith St party on Wednesday night. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
It is the biggest week on the student calendar, but the rowdy, headline-grabbing antics associated with the University of Otago’s Orientation Week appear to have been toned down after a student’s death late last year. Daisy Hudson headed out into the student quarter to see how different O Week culture has become.

The constant, repetitive thud of drum and bass being blasted through lounge speakers.

The crackle of broken glass being crunched under white Converse sneakers.

The rise and fall of excited chatter as hundreds of people flood into an already packed courtyard.

That was the soundtrack of Dunedin’s student quarter on Wednesday night, the halfway point of Orientation Week 2020.

At the Forsyth Barr Stadium, this year’s crop of freshers donned their best bed sheets and danced, chanted, and selfied the night away at the annual toga party.

A few streets over, Hawaiian shirt-clad older students knocked back cheap RTDs and bottles of wine at that night’s big flat party.

There has been plenty of talk in the lead-up to this year’s festivities about student drinking culture in the wake of the death of a student late last year.

Partiers donned their Hawaiian best at a Leith St party on Wednesday night.
Partiers donned their Hawaiian best at a Leith St party on Wednesday night.
Sophia Crestani (19) is believed to have died in a crush of people at a large Dundas St flat party on October 6.

The incident put student partying under a spotlight.

It appears that tragedy has sparked a change in how students, and the organisations working with them, ring in the new university year.

For example, the blue and red flash of police lights has always been a familiar sight on the main student flat streets.

But on Wednesday night, that was due to the presence of Campus Constable John Woodhouse, who kept a watchful but good-natured eye on a large party co-hosted by Leith St flats Racecourse and Tunnel.

He was there because the party had been registered on the Good One party website.

Registering the party meant, police, Campus Watch, noise control, and other organisations were aware it was happening, and could work with the hosts to ensure it did not get out of hand.

In between chatting to noise control staff and being hounded for selfies by party-goers, Const Woodhouse said he was impressed with the behaviour of students so far this year.

"They’ve been really good, really co-operative.

"Everyone is trying really hard to make sure another tragedy doesn’t happen."

He pointed to last Saturday night as an example.

About 3000 people packed into Castle St for a large street party.

Despite the numbers, and a fair amount of alcohol, there was only one arrest — someone who had flown down from Auckland, he said.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of students are just here to have a good time, and don’t cause any trouble."

Two of Wednesday night’s party organisers, second year students Ted Grigg and Ben Stronach, had worked closely with police and other agencies to ensure the party stayed under control.

"It’s been such a good time," Mr Grigg said.

"Your mates all come over earlier in the night, and then other people start turning up."

Attendees at a Leith St party appeared happy with the police presence.
Attendees at a Leith St party appeared happy with the police presence.
He reckoned he knew about 40 of the 200-odd people packed into their courtyard by 10pm.

"You get friends of friends, then it goes out on social media."

Many of the well-known flats took turns to host big parties during the week, but Mr Stronach said there was no pressure — they wanted to put on a good night.

The death of Miss Crestani had affected the way they went about organising the party, Mr Grigg said.

"We talk about it with our mates, nobody wants that to happen again."

Despite the safety-conscious approach, Wednesday night was not all responsible drinking and organised fun.

Shortly after 9pm, a young man was seen sitting on the footpath, slumped against a wall and apparently out for the count, opposite BP in Cumberland St.

Police were called to reports of fighting at a large party in Warrender St, where hundreds of revellers milled about on the street.

Since students returned to the city about a fortnight ago, there have been arrests, reports of police and ambulance staff being abused, and rubbish and broken glass strewn around the streets.

In the early hours of the morning after last Saturday’s big party, Campus Watch posted on its Facebook page that four people had been taken to hospital and 34 people had been given rides home.

After a query from the Otago Daily Times about Campus Watch statistics, the post was edited yesterday morning and the numbers were removed.

Nevertheless, police said students had been pretty well behaved overall.

The week has certainly been lacking in the couch fires, riots, and general mayhem of O Weeks gone by.

One small cardboard box fire was spotted outside a Dundas St flat shortly after 10pm on Wednesday, but it was quickly extinguished by a tenant with a jug of water.

Some enterprising businesses have even started to take advantage of the hordes of tipsy revellers on the streets.

A Blue Boy van was parked in Clyde St, serving ice creams to toga-wearing students heading towards Starters Bar.

In a statement, University of Otago proctor Dave Scott said both he and Campus Watch were, on the whole, satisfied with student behaviour.

"Although non-students coming into the area for parties do continue to cause some problems.

"The police have been working closely with flats organising events and this appears to be working well, with Campus Watch in support."

As well as the Good One website, the university monitored events and, where needed, provided enforcement either through police channels or the Student Code of Conduct, he said.


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