Resilient people and place demand respect

South Dunedin from above. PHOTO: ODT FILES
South Dunedin from above. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A South Dunedin hub is an important start in the area’s revitalisation, writes Tony Eyre.

A pop up pub in South Dunedin? Did I read it right? No, it seems my eyes were playing tricks with me with the announcement in a recent Dunedin City Council fold-out newsletter that a temporary home had been found for a pop up hub at the home of Cargill Enterprises in Hillside Rd. When you pop down to the hub, you won't be served a pint or tempted to play the pokies. This hub, as they call it, is to be a service centre for South Dunedin as a space for community activities, meeting rooms, a DCC service centre to pay your bills and a small-scale public library.

It's been a long time coming but the good people of South Dunedin seem to have the patience of Job. The community hub, once opened, is intended to be an important starting point in the long-term plans for the revitalisation of the South Dunedin retail centre and the enhancement of community facilities in the area.

There has been no shortage of frustration, debate and stop-start plans over many years as to what form of community centre including a library is best suited for South Dunedin. This new pop up hub is at best a toe in the water and its popularity or otherwise will be monitored by the council to give a steer on what may be a more permanent option in giving a much-needed lift to the area's social and economic wellbeing.

Marrying into a South Dunedin family 40 years ago has given me a fondness for this working-class suburb and I like to take long walks around its perimeter and through its narrow streets and back alleys.

As I look south from Cargill's Cnr, the long stretch of King Edward St's sometimes bustling retail precinct retains the look of a small-town main street with its chimneyed brick buildings, picturesque facades and poled verandas.

Despite shopping giants Pak'n Save and The Warehouse on its doorstep, the old down-at-heel main street continues to demand respect as a destination. While the closure of established businesses has left some empty premises, there is still plenty of retail variety, although there does appear to be a predominance of eating places, second-hand dealers and opportunity shops. But some things haven't changed. Old family businesses like Thomas Shoes, Alex Campbell Menswear and Brocklebanks Dry Cleaners continue to attract loyal customers going back generations. The major trading banks too have stood their ground, jostling for their share of South Dunedin business.

A less optimistic picture of South Dunedin can be found in Hillside Rd, where the great monolith of the Hillside Railway Workshops stretches like a glass mausoleum down several blocks, a victim of KiwiRail's awarding of a lucrative contract to China for the manufacture of flatbed wagons complete with shoddy brakes.

Life in South Dunedin wasn't always easy and a certain toughness and resilience is evident in some of the flat's better known achievers. Out of Reid and Wilkie Rds came a pretty handy New Zealand hockey representative and all-round sportsman, Brian Turner, even better known as one of the country's leading poets and a hard-hitting champion for the environment. Not surprisingly, he's penned a poem on his South Dunedin roots.

Growing up in Atkinson St, an altar boy well used to the taunt, ``Catholic dogs, stink like frogs'', was later labelled ``the screaming skull'' for his unrelenting megaphone activism during the 1981 Springbok Tour. This was John Minto, the Halt All Racist Tours national organiser whose lean, gaunt figure was like a magnet to police riot squad members who nicknamed their Monadnock PR24 long-baton, the ``Minto Bar''.

Cricketing legend Brendon McCullum grew up across the Bay View Rd border in St Kilda's Waterloo St - and proud of it. Did he get a bit emotional after clocking up a record-breaking triple century against India at the Basin Reserve in 2014? ``Nah, no tear in the eye. I'm from South Dunedin,'' was his response.

And in a backyard shed in their Oxford St home, a young Yvonne Fogarty, coached by her dad, showed early promise as a left-handed attacking table tennis player. As a 15-year-old schoolgirl she was selected to represent New Zealand at the 1967 World Championships in Stockholm and later went on to become a NZ singles champion. The community-minded people of South Dunedin organised raffles and a fair at Culling Park to raise the travel funds to get their local girl to Sweden in the New Zealand blazer.

The new community hub, despite its temporary home for the next two years is a positive commitment from the council to widen its engagement with South Dunedin residents and will hopefully lead the way, with community input, for a more permanent gathering place - if not quite a local watering hole.

Tony Eyre is a Dunedin writer.

Add a Comment