In early October the Friends enjoyed a very interesting visit to Dunedin and Oamaru.

Dunedin was established by the Scottish Free Church in 1848. When gold was discovered at Gabriel’s Gully in 1861, Dunedin quickly became New Zealand’s biggest and richest city. Its wealthier citizens were soon erecting grand neoclassical buildings in bluestone and Oamaru stone that still line the city’s streets, and substantial, elegant homes on the hills above the town. Many of New Zealand’s oldest companies began life in Dunedin, including Hallenstein’s Brothers in 1873 and the D.I.C. (the Drapery and General Importing Company of NZ Ltd) in 1884, both founded by Bendix Hallenstein. The Scottish early settlers placed high value on education and learning. In 1863 the city established the country’s first Botanic Garden and in 1869 the first university, now the University of Otago, which opened in 1871. Otago Museum was established in 1868, moving to its current site from The Exchange in 1877. Our visit began with a tour of the grand 1878 RA Lawson-designed Municipal Chambers, recently restored.

In 1897 Dr Thomas Hocken offered his extensive collection of books, maps, paintings and manuscripts to Dunedin. The Friends sampled the vast collections held by this fabulous research library, from its extraordinary art collection, with some of the finest works of both historical and contemporary New Zealand artists, to historic maps, photos and architectural plans, and ephemera, including the No. 3 issue of the NZ Woman’s Weekly magazine. (Anyone have Nos. 1 and 2?) The Hocken collections can be explored on-line at hakena.otago.ac.nz

An equal highlight was our visit to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, New Zealand’s first such gallery (established in 1884), which since 1996 has been in the Octagon in the elegant Art Deco former DIC building. We were warmly welcomed by Bridie Lonie, past President of the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Society. Guided by Lynda Cullen, we enjoyed some highlights of the gallery’s wide-ranging collection, including the only Monet in a NZ collection, their very newest McCahon, depicting Otago Harbour, and a special exhibition on Doris Lusk. Dunedin has been a centre of the arts from its early years – notably the circle around the Hodgkins family in the late 19th  century, the McIntyres in the early 20th century, and the Dunedin School of Art group in the 1930s (Doris Lusk, Colin McCahon, his wife Anne Hamblett and war artist Russell Clark) – through to its contemporary ‘street art’, 25 exciting murals on prominent buildings or tucked into corners down narrow alleyways. Even the Public Library has an art collection of national significance.

At Otago Museum we were enchanted by the hundreds of exotic butterflies in Discovery World’s three-storey tropical forest, then fascinated by the stunning show about our planet and its place in the universe in the new Planetarium, a voyage through space that is itself worth a visit to Dunedin. Few of us had seen so magnificent a night sky since our childhood. Just across the road, with the students intently working on end-of-year studies, we crept through the University of Otago’s magnificent Central Library to see some of the books in the special collections, such as a miniature guide in Latin, once belonging to Louis XIV, on how to behave as a gentleman; one of the earliest bible commentaries printed in English; and the special exhibition, A Letterpress Legacy, from the Dartmouth College Book Arts Workshop. Next door, at the Wickliffe Press, we all enjoyed the fun of printing a poem on historic hand presses, under the guidance of Shef Rogers.

Many of us also managed to visit the brilliant, redeveloped Toitu Otago Settlers Museum to see its engaging displays on the social history of the peoples of Otago and also the special exhibition on the Dunedin Study, Slice of Life.

Elizabeth Kay

Feature image: Half of our group in the historic Mayoral Chambers in the Dunedin Town Hall