Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Otago no-fun

Otago University once had a bit of a reputation as a party school, despite its public health department. 

Times change. The Spinoff reprints a piece by Chelle Fitzgerald from Otago student magazine Critic going through the bars they've lost:
The Gardies was the crown jewel of Castle Street. It hosted International Nude Day, the beloved holiday instituted by former All Black, Highlander and Sports Café presenter Marc Ellis. Ellis also judged the regular Beerable Arts competition there, usually streaking during the competition. Students would flock there specifically to see him nude. The 2010 closure of the Gardies, now a sleek university study centre, heralded a turning point in Otago scarfie culture.

I caught up with Marc Ellis to chat about how things have changed in Dunedin. He was at the Satay Noodle House, “a happy place” for him, tucking into a seafood deluxe. Famously, he once tried to purchase his former happy place, the Gardies. However the university swooped in and snatched it, he claims. “The pub had an evaluation at $1.1 million, and when the university heard we were trying to buy it, [with] the breweries’ backing, they paid $1.6 million for it – and that’s in the middle of a global financial crisis.”

Interestingly, the university found this stack of money at a time when they apparently could not even muster the funds to keep various departments fully staffed.

Critic uncovered emails using the Official Information Act which showed the university purchased Gardies with no plan of how they were going to use the property (while some believe this was simply to stop Ellis getting his hands on it, official evidence to support this has never surfaced).

Ellis had hoped to keep the Gardies as a pub owned by students, for students. “We were going to sell shares for $1000 to students. So if it cost $1.2 million, you’d get 1200 shareholders – we don’t own it anymore by that stage, it’s owned by the students. So you’ve got 1200 people who have a vested interest in ensuring it goes well, so they come down and have a beer, it’s actually a really simple strategy. But the university runs Dunedin, so the council would be on your back, and then you’ve got the legislators making it difficult, they can red tape you and make your life an absolute misery.

“It’s sad, isn’t it, university now is so different because you’ve got a board of grey-headed old white men making decisions which are just totally off pace with the evolving world. And they get it wrong – they’ve just ripped the heart and soul out of the university.”

Ellis has a point. With the elimination or reimagining of student pubs like the Gardies, the Bowler and the Cook, our neighbourhood has really changed. North Dunedin used to be a special place to blow off steam during uni. “It was a really beautiful melting pot and focal point for people from different courses, and different lifestyles and backgrounds, to meet, and to bond,” Ellis says. “And to remove that, and force them to try and hope to meet like-minded souls in the Octagon, with everyone else, and the general punters wanting a beer after work, it just doesn’t work.”
I love this bit from Ellis too:
“What’s the logic of the university, seriously? Trying to get rid of the pubs so there are a thousand people at ten flat parties, which is harder to control than a thousand people at one pub.”

“There are a lot of things conspiring against the survival of the student pub. You could bring it back, but you’d be fighting battles with all these bloody puritans and board members. Congratulations to the grey-headed old fuckwits who’ve sanitised university. Well done!” 
If only Otago constrained themselves to their own campus rather than having more imperialistic ambitions....

Update: the Proctor's confiscated all the issues of the student magazine's special issue on menstruation. How long until they're basically New Zealand's bible college, except secular?

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