Ex-scarfie shares flat’s stories

Scribes Books was once a student flat known as ‘‘The Shambles’’, beloved by students at the Otago...
Scribes Books was once a student flat known as ‘‘The Shambles’’, beloved by students at the Otago School of Mines. Photo: Peter McIntosh
An ex-School of Mines student is thrilled his old flat, "The Shambles" — a historic party house that once lent its name to a snowcat in the Antarctic — will be featured in a compilation of historic University of Otago flats.

"The Shambles" was what is now second-hand bookshop Scribes Books, in Great King St. The Otago School of Mines was part of the university for more than a century, before being moved to the University of Auckland in the late 1980s.

Former student James "Murdoch" Mackenzie, who now lives in Australia, had fond memories of the flat, and got in touch with researchers Sarah Gallagher and Dr Ian Chapman after hearing of their Scarfie Flats project, a compilation of more than 600 flats from the 1930s to today. Mr Mackenzie said he was "delighted" to hear one of the centres of the School of Mines’ social life was being recognised in the book. He lived at the flat for two years in the late 1950s, and said it was very well-known in the ’50s and ’60s.

"Many students of the world-famous Otago School of Mines lived in The Shambles and almost all of them partied in it. These were the days when the brewery would deliver a keg of beer to the flat and the parties became very noisy," he said.

There were four bedrooms on the upper floor and a lounge, and the kitchen, dining room and bathroom were downstairs, he said. The Shambles had a "somewhat tragic association" with the Antarctic, Mr Mackenzie said: a former member of the flat was seriously injured there.

It also lent its name to a snowcat that was once used there. Graduates from the School of Mines had found work all over the world — in the Middle East, Australia, the United States, Canada, France, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, and had held several reunions in recent years, he said.

At Otago, the mining students had had a rivalry with the dental students, in which a rugby match and a drinking contest were held each year. The dental students usually won the rugby and the mining students won the drinking, he said. Students at the time were "cash poor and time poor", having lectures at the School of Mines that began at 8am and ended at 6pm most days. Most socialising was done on Saturday afternoon at the Captain Cook, which closed at 6pm in those days. Ms Gallagher said anyone else who had information on named Dunedin flats was welcome to contact her until about mid-July.

The Scarfie Flats compilation, created by her and music lecturer Dr Ian Chapman, is due to come out in January next year.


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