Och, aye, time to start anew

Dunedin's Scottish heritage thing is getting a bit old, and is clearly holding the city back. In the second edition of a series of articles on how to make Dunedin much, much better, David Loughrey looks at our history and why we should change it.

Scottish my eye

Clever university educated people know all history is a social construct.

Those with brains that occupy the lofty heights of erudition know society chooses bits and pieces of what someone at some time said might have happened, takes disconnected scraps of history and constructs a loose narrative around it, then develops from that an elaborate story of who we supposedly are.

That history, of course, is written by the victor, or by a latter power in whose interest it is to promulgate a certain rendering of the past.

In Dunedin, for some strange and difficult reason, the social construct has thrown up Scottishness as the dominant heritage choice.

Certainly some people have Scottish lineage, and certainly some ships carrying religious zealots from Scotland did land in Dunedin at one point, but they arrived long after Maori, and were soon overtaken by a horde of gold-lusting ne'er-do-wells from across the known universe, keen to tear the flimsy clothing from Otago's interior, cleave the virgin soil and loot its precious metals.

By God, those were arousing days!But the very clear point conclusively argued here is Dunedin doesn't have Scottish heritage at all. Some idiot just made it up.

And that's not all.

We didn't just choose a heritage, we chose a heritage at a particular point in time.

When it comes to Dunedin's specious Scottishness, that time appears to be when hairy-legged Highlanders marched across howling hills, their wet kilts slapping against their thistle-scratched calves as brutal English overlords did something or other mean and very unfair.

And it's not 1930s Glasgow we chose, nor Industrial Revolution-era Scotland, when the country was one of the commercial, intellectual and industrial powerhouses of Europe.

Oh no.

It's kilty, Highlandy, thistley bloody Scotland, rustic and resentful Scotland, windy, cold and angry Scotland.

The sad result of this insistence on such a perverse narrative means the city of Dunedin has been burdened with such concepts as the Presbyterian work ethic, not to mention a miserly approach to life and money and a surly and defensive attitude in general.

It's holding us back.

It has to change.

What should Dunedin look for in a heritage?

To what - and to when - should we change?

Studying the failings of the current heritage paradigm should give us some ideas for avenues that could be explored.

The current model lacks some very basic elements any good socially constructed heritage should have.

Those include: romance; a rampant, untrammeled sexiness; a decent standard of dress; a certain devil-may-care flamboyance and a strong undercurrent of intellectualism.

The population of the place and time we choose for our new heritage should be richly and elaborately coiffured, their language should be the language of love, or at least closely related to it, the architecture and engineering of its cities should be epoch-making, the people should be audacious and overtly scandalous in matters of the flesh and their art and literature should have created the masterpieces by which we measure our creative output.

What heritage should we choose?

Italian; specifically Italian during the Renaissance.

The period ticks all the boxes required for a heritage Dunedin could be proud of.

It had, of course, Italian Renaissance art, from Botticelli's The Birth of Venus to Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam and plenty of other terrific paintings of nude people in bizarre situations.

Then there was architecture.

Oh, but what architecture!And imagine a Dunedin that sprung from such a place and time that saw fresh philosophical insight into the nature of reality, and questioned God and spirituality.

Imagine a Dunedin based on such a rich legacy of ground-breaking science.

Imagine a Dunedin that could show a historical link in its carnal pastimes to I Modi (The Ways), also known as The Sixteen Pleasures, a 16th-century publication that, using engraving and romantic sonnets, leaves nothing to the imagination in these matters.

Not much remains of this classic piece, sadly, as Pope Clement VII banned it. More than once.

Nice one, Pope Clement.

On the other hand, if we were not to choose Renaissance Italy, perhaps Transylvania in the vampire period might work.

Those capes were brilliant, and there's always an undercurrent of wanton sexuality in vampires.

What would the process involve?

The Robbie Burns statue would have to be removed from the Octagon, though mostly just to annoy people.

Dunedin's coat of arms would have to go, as would many street and suburb names, and the name of our rugby team.

But mostly, the change would be wrought deep within the hearts of Dunedin's people.

In hearts that thump slow and wary in the chests of joyless men unwilling to invest in one extra beat lest they lose one moment of their sullen lives, desperately fending off the temptation to skip a beat or pump lust-laced blood to far-off organs, slowly would emerge just the slightest scent of Latin flamboyance as the understanding of our little city's new history takes hold.

Slowly but surely, those hearts would pump anew with blood frothing and bubbling direct from the renaissance of our very souls.

Slowly but surely, we would emerge from our dark homes into a bright new sun, glorying in the our historic links to the genius of Michelangelo and da Vinci and desperate to re-light the fires and let burn their vast creativity here in one of the world's great small cities.

Slowly but surely, the look of stubborn resentment would fade from the blotchy faces of our most bitter residents, to be replaced with the glow of an optimistic and literate culture of intellectual endeavour.

Having said that, being Transylvanian would also be quite cool.


Bunch of dualist binary opposites, morning, noon and night. What is the opposite of dour wee frees, we ask, and come up with..hot blooded Latins from your Romance countries of Europe. Too much, too soon, if you think guild burghers will tolerate the sight of grey men taking absinthe alfresco with youthful companions, in the French manner. It won't do, sir. Go halfway - Merseyside, that's lively, the Manchester Ship Canal, and a whole lot of Rita Tushinghams, who will at least be the same demographic as those who stay here over summer.