EACH and every year a pilgrimage of sorts occurs in the deep south and from many areas of the country. Parents pack off their children to go and become adults, while they’re at it grabbing a degree or two from the long established home of the Scarfie and great southern proving ground Otago University (not to forget Polytech and T-Col). Times have changed and no-one would deny some change has been required, while other changes have in my mind been for the worse within this great institution.
I have listened with envy to stories from my father’s generation, some of whom are now quite involved in the running of the university, and I can see that the time they spent there was special and still fresh in their mind, I would also note two key things: not once have I heard anyone lamenting about a lecture or a test and secondly, I couldn’t help but think that if we got up to half of what they did I would be writing this from behind bars.
But it was all good-natured imaginative fun that in their time was a little more acceptable than it would be now. Dunedin is magnificent for students – derelict but character-laden flats, student bars, scores of social events and a reasonably loose chain that over the years has seen the Dunedin student become somewhat of a cultural icon across the land.
There has been infamy of late with the Undy 500 riots, but it would be fair to say that controversy of some sorts publicly or behind the closed doors of the varsity has never been far away from this unique group of fledgling adults.
At the centre of this culture, particularly during the past 30 to 40 years, has been the Gardens Sports Tavern, affectingly known by most simply as Gardies, the quintessential student watering hole.
Always famous in its own right, it gained national notoriety mainly through the love affair that one Marc Ellis shared with the venue.
However, this is now to be no more because it was recently announced that Gardies is to close. Like the Bowler last year, Otago University has jumped at the chance to buy and close another student bar.
The university has made no secret it wishes to stamp out the student drinking culture once and for all, with recent events such as the Undy 500 riots and high-profiled student drunkenness putting a so-called blight on the town’s good reputation.
I say be careful Dunedin – with more than 20,000 students propping up your town you don’t want to take away the one thing that separates you from every other tertiary centre in the country, and I’m telling you it’s not education.
You can get a degree anywhere but you can only be a Scarfie in Dunedin. While like any responsible organisation, the university and other tertiary institutions cannot be seen to condone binge drinking, they need to have some leeway to allow this unique, often alcohol-fuelled social experiment and development phase in young adults’ lives to continue because it is this that sets Otago apart from the pack and gives it an edge when it comes to student recruitment.
Not to be forgotten, those making the decisions now have already had their fun and a lot of it by the sounds of things, so it’s a bit harsh to ruin it for the future generations.
So it is with a heavy heart that I say a sad and final goodbye to the bar that has made the past 10 or 11 years of my life that little-bit-more enjoyable. To Pete and long-time staff such as Johnny Miller, it will never be the same without you.
Hopefully, I make it back in time to share one last jug of Speight’s with the students of Otago before the closing bell sounds for the last time and another lecture theatre pops up to mould young minds in a different way.
Mark Wilson was a regular columnist for the Southland Times from 2007 to 2010 - Read the original article HERE
Subscribe to updates below