Monday, November 26, 2007
The city of Dunedin, New Zealand has played an important role in the history of New Zealand. Archaeological evidence points to the area having been long inhabited by the Māori prior to European arrival and the establishment of a settlement in 1848 by the Free Church of Scotland.
The discovery of gold inland from Dunedin in 1861 led to the new city becoming the colony's main industrial and commercial centre. The successful export of frozen meat from the city provided an extra impetus to the city's importance and growth, as did the establishment of the country's first university.
Though the city's fortunes waned during much of the twentieth century, it is now again experiencing growth and is seen as a centre for tertiary education, eco-tourism, and culture.
In this first time of prosperity many institutions and businesses were established in Dunedin, New Zealand's first daily newspaper, its first university, art school and medical school among them. A combination of money, good building stones and the then Scottish international pre-eminence in architecture saw a remarkable flowering of substantial and ornamental buildings, unusual for such a young and distant colony. R.A. Lawson's First Church of Otago and Knox Church are notable examples. Maxwell Bury's clock tower complex for the University and F.W. Petre's St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Cathedral are others started in this time. The city's landscape and burgeoning townscape were vividly portrayed by George O'Brien.
Difficult economic conditions led to the 'anti-sweating' movement led by a Presbyterian Minister, Rutherford Waddell, and the Otago Daily Times (under the editorship of Sir George Fenwick). From it came the establishment of the New Zealand Labour Party. Early in the 1880s the inauguration of the frozen meat industry, with the first shipment leaving from Port Chalmers, saw the beginning of a later great national industry. In the mid 1890s the gold dredging boom began and by the turn of the century Dunedin was experiencing another time of prosperity.
This was a fertile period in the visual arts. William Mathew Hodgkins, the 'father of art in New Zealand' - according to his daughter Frances Hodgkins - certainly presided over a vital scene. From the interlocking circles of Turneresque Romantic landscape painters and younger impressionistic practitioners, G.P. Nerli helped to launch Frances Hodgkins on her career as New Zealand's most distinguished expatriate artist.
From the 1890s the Assyrians, religious refugees from what is now Lebanon, started to arrive, packing into the inner city slums largely occupied by Chinese. It was in this milieu John A. Lee grew up, the later Labour firebrand whose novels exposing these conditions would shock the country. But merchants like Edward Theomin built his grand town house Olveston and the Dunedin Railway Station was an opulent building, both completed in 1906. More companies and institutions were founded in these years, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in 1884, the Otago Settlers Museum in 1898 and the Hocken Collections in 1910, all first of their types in New Zealand. But Dunedin was no longer the biggest city.
Determined to defeat demographic gravity Otago and Dunedin sent proportionately more personnel to the First World War than the other New Zealand districts and the losses were proportionately greater. The Anglican Cathedral, St. Paul's started in 1915 and consecrated in 1919 was the last great Gothic Revival building, and remains uncompleted. In another act of demographic self-promotion the 1925 New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition was staged at Logan Park to co-incide with the five yearly census. 3.3 million people visited, more than attended any New Zealand exhibition before or since. The tramways' profits paid for a new town hall, still New Zealand's largest. But population growth continued to slow. With the 1930s the international depression set in. In early 1932 there were urban riots later repeated in the northern centres.
Despite the city's slow growth the university continued to expand boosted by its monopoly in health sciences. The developing Colleges and Halls saw the establishment of a student quarter. In this time too people started to notice Dunedin's mellowing, the ageing of its grand old buildings, with writers like E.H. McCormick pointing out its atmospheric charm. R.N. Field at the art school inspired young students to break from tradition with M.T. (Toss) Woollaston, Doris Lusk, Anne Hamblett, Colin McCahon and Patrick Hayman forming the first cell of indigenous Modernism. The Second World War saw the dispersal of these painters, but not before McCahon had met a very youthful poet, James K. Baxter, in a central city studio.
After the war prosperity and population growth revived, although Dunedin trailed as the fourth 'main centre'. A generation reacting against Victorianism started demolishing its buildings for redevelopment, which in Dunedin often meant open air car parks. Many buildings were lost, notably the Stock Exchange in 1969. The university expanded, the rest of the city did not. Between 1976 and 81 it went into absolute decline. This lent support to the proposal to establish an aluminium smelter at Aramoana as one of Sir Robert Muldoon's 'think big' projects.Its economics were doubtful and once exposed by Otago Professor, Paul Van Moeseke, the government backed off. But the city became bitterly divided.
This was a culturally vibrant time with the university's new privately endowed fellowships for writers, composers and visual artists, bringing such luminaries as James K Baxter, Ralph Hotere, Janet Frame, Hone Tuwhare, back to the city, or to Dunedin for the first time, where some stayed and many lingered. Good Modernist buildings appeared, such as the Dental School and Ted McCoy's Otago Boys' High School and Richardson building, evidence that this born-in-Dunedin designer could find a way of marrying Modernism to the revivalist inheritance.
In the 1980s, these trends were paralleled by a burgeoning popular music scene which made Dunedin and its "Dunedin Sound" well-known to rock music fans. Local bands such as The Chills, Straitjacket Fits, The Clean, and The Verlaines became popular both nationwide and internationally.
Population decline steadied. By 1990 Dunedin had re-invented itself as the 'heritage city' with its main streets refurbished in Victorian style and R.A Lawson's Municipal Chambers in the Octagon handsomely restored. The university's growth accelerated. North Dunedin became New Zealand's largest and most exuberant residential campus. Local body reform saw the creation of the present huge territorial Dunedin, the country's largest city, in 1989, a distinction many found dubious.
The city has continued to refurbish itself, rehousing the Dunedin Public Art Gallery in the Octagon in 1996 and buying and restoring the Railway Station and now embarking on a large development of the Otago Settlers Museum. Dunedin continues to be preoccupied with its population and economic future but people have lived here for nine centuries through radically changing fortunes. Unlike other New Zealand cities something of that is reflected in its atmosphere with its constant recall of the past and promise of future surprises.
Posted by bushganizer258 at 8:12 AM