Don’t doubt Dunedin

‘ So you’re going to Dunners huh? Brrrrrrrr, it’s gonna be cold, really cold.’

The generic Dunedin overture plays with its doubting Thomas conductors. Somehow everyone seems to know everything about Dunedin having never set foot. Isn’t that interesting…..

So here I was opting to take on the foot of the Yeti, according to all skeptics. And since the Yeti is fiction, maybe their generalizations of a Dunedin experience would be too.

I wasn’t scared to find out.

I’d lived and bred babies and taught and tortured myself with early morning runs over iced up puddles. I’d been a Dunedin girl all those years. Now I was popping back to see the family.

Big Brother Bill’s fire breathing furnace was showing off as usual. As soon as the door opened at the top of the Pine Heights family home, out came Desmond the Dragon. Desmond is my name for Bill’s burner, taking stage centre in the kitchen as you enter. I’d just flown in from Hong Kong where the 33 degree Celsius days with the sticky air had suffocated me in gladwrap. Now I was thrown into a secret cave with a big friendly dragon warming my bones, my bunions and my belly. No need of a fan or my air con. or sun shielding brolly…..just relax Suzanne and enjoy being ‘home’.

I’d left Dunedin in April, 2000. Then I’d been a JAFFA for a decade, then I’d taken off to land of no dragons but a Sultan. We’d had a good chat, the Sultan of Brunei and I. There one was surrounded with overwhelming heat which required no wood burner with a stack of logs to feed the appetite of a monster.

So I was fine. Traces of ice on bits of road amongst the green green grass of home close to Momona airport had made an impression. It paled in comparison though to my breathtaking Air New Zealand journey past snowy Alps with their impeccable set of veneers sparkling like a fairytale smile. And I’m not exaggerating!

Family to see, places to go, chats to have, friends to feel friends with again. I couldn’t wait.

‘ Renee would love you to pop in on the way home Suzie.’

‘ Let’s do it! ’ I was about to see my niece. Brilliant.

The setting was gorgeous. Fairfield on this chilly sunny day was showing off just as much as Desmond. The col de Sac where my niece lived was child heaven. A trampoline out on the lawn, huge space inside and out. Everything my darling Hong Kong colleagues would only imagine in dreams.

And even better was the fact that my other niece, Ilana, was just minutes away with her vegetable garden and solid brick house for her children. No big bad wolf was knocking that chimney down!

New things

Bill and I caught the Pine Hill bus down the hill after dropping off my luggage. We’d go in the slick silver Jaguar tomorrow. Wow. This was new. Where in the world do you wait for a bus in a designer bus shelter with the 3 D feel of colonial Otago which an artist has so carefully created?

Bill had mentioned the ‘new look’ of Dunedin with various artists around the globe contracted to paint old factories, warehouses and commercial buildings with the vision of revitalizing industrial warehouse monotony. I learnt that Dunedin is a UNESCO designated City of Literature. Walk along the Street Art trail with its twenty-eight walls and this Dungeon and Dragons Scarfy Scottish city is a free, mobile art gallery.

I read once that each place has an adjective to sum up what attracts like-minded people to live there. Hong Kong’s word would be money, LA fame, Rarotonga peace, and Dunedin? CULTURE. For the university, the art, the trail, the scarfies and the vibe is more about literature and life through words than anything else. Well in my opinion.

My bus shelter encompassed it all, especially with my brother and his Stetson hat and very suave waistcoat. Ah yes, Dunedin had panache!

I love surprises. Tucked in between an alley of bricks in scarfy land was Desmond’s cousin. This fantasy figure of dragon proportions painted by a wizard artist, breathed fire into a slightly chilled air. It was winter but it was sunny.

There had been quite a lot of morphing going on elsewhere too. Otago Girls where I’d taught for three years had a fancy new gym. Roslyn where we’d lived now had a slick café instead of fire engines at the station. And down on George Street the legendary Rob Roy Dairy was still there but bigger and occupying a well deserved corner site. Friday nights used to be fast food fly out with our children and Rob Roy dairy was number one destination. They had the best ice creams on the planet. I was thrilled that they had extended onto the corner site after being so generous with their servings over the years. Good to know kindness and smiles can increase business!

On one morning run I ended up at Otago University where I’d studied. Soaking in the elegance of the Victorian architecture and the famous clock tower was enchanting. I chuckled past a large group of male students on the brink of eviction. One was taking the lead and advising compliance. There was no time to capture everything but I got the gist of their sober conversation. But hang on, the street they lived on was fancy. All the villas had been transformed into uni houses for various faculties. It was a small change though. Everywhere else had the ill-clad villas and lads who were probably still in trouble for burning a sofa and being caught. A Code of Conduct was introduced years ago but boys will be boys!

Moray Place still seemed the same but someone was missing. Collectibles had a new proprietor. I’d stroll down there during school lunchtimes to buy MC Hammer pants and second-hand designer clothes and be greeted by Fiona the darling. Well at least her legacy was continued.

Old things

The Bullock track hadn’t aged but it was just as stubborn. The incline, the view and the torture of a run up there then on to John McGlashan were muscle memory pain. But I did it. And as soon as I spotted ‘Johnnies’ my blast from the past exploded with a smile. Six years of teaching boys had been a journey. An amazing journey. Eventually I’d understood more about the brain mechanics of boys in contrast to my female students at Otago Girls. But it’s still a mystery!

I stopped in front of the boarding house where two trees stood without the busy chatter of swaggering lads on their way to class. These trees had names to be remembered. The life and death of my affable student, Robert Murray, had its own new trunk and branches. And the legendary John Dunbar, vice principal and friend, wasn’t far from Robert. John was never far from any of us.

Almost time to go. I scurry to the Meridian mall in search of size 43 cool boots. Arthur Barnett has gone with H&J Smith in its seat. I’m desperate for shoes in my size. Mi Piaci have a size 42 which love me. I love them back. Hong Kongers glare at my Yeti feet as if to say there is no place for your big feet in our country. I knew I’d find some in Dunedin.

I drive through Sligo Terrace and our Neighbourhood Support Group years with Sukhi around the corner flash me back. She was a great mayor. Winnie used to live on the corner of City Road. She phoned one day to say that Charlie was walking up to the shops by himself, in his cap turned backwards and school bag even though he was only three or four at the time. Community watch at its best!

Time to exit. A brief farewell to my vivacious sister-in-law at Taieri High, a school she was very proud of.

At the airport I’m happy. I’ve been with family and friends. I’ve seen Absolutely Fabulous at the Rialto. As a child it was famous for its starry night ceiling as the St James. I’ve reminisced with my running buddies over a Queenstown Beach Boys concert in the sun and a Wine Festival on the grass. I recall driving home from that weekend smelling the cinders of a frog-leap fire which had jumped the Clutha and blackened the landscape.

The air is still. The air is quiet. Dunedin is quiet.

Quiet is good.

The familiar sights and smells of a city you’ve had a long-term relationship with, never leave you. It’s a love thing.

Dunedin, I appreciate you very much!