Dunedin was my home from the mid 1980s to the early 1990s, from my mid-teens to my early twenties. In no particular order: my daughter was born here, I once was a house owner here but mostly I lived in student dives, I dabbled at university papers but devoted myself to some serious study of mood altering substances, I performed my poetry frequently, wrote a book, learned to drive. In short, some substantial and significant elements of my life journey occurred in this town.
Visiting Dunedin is a chance to catch up with old friends who remember me during the years when I wore nothing but pink, including my hair colour or nothing but neon paisley, including my shoes. It's an opportunity to reactivate my University Book Shop account and go crazy at the perpetual book sale upstairs.
Walking the length of downtown, from Union Street to the Oval, I looked in vain for a cheese roll: no more Governor's or Cowell's Coffee Lounge and even the Little Hutt seemed to have disappeared. And not a fish and chip shop to be seen. North of the Octogon is still bustling with retail, although there were more head shops (3) than I ever imagined possible back in the day, more Japanese eateries and an inexplicable number of places selling dolls. Just as I remembered, many places had handwritten signs explaining they're closed for the "summer"- this is a student town through and through. This is increasingly apparent as one walks south, away from the campus and Princes Street gapes with empty shop fronts. It was never a very happening part of town during my tenure but all the shabby second hand shops have been inexplicably replaced with expensive, upmarket antique dealers whose windows gleam with polished mahogany and cut crystal and no promise of fossicking through dusty cardboard boxes of broken kitchen appliances.
There's enough that's familiar to make me nostalgic, but so much has changed- and not really in a good way- that there's no longing to return "home". The city markets itself to potential residents with the obscure slogan: "I am Dunedin" and profiles of happy white people superimposed on a blue sky background. In some crucial ways I am Dunedin, in that my Dunedin life is what made me an adult. But my Dunedin was grey skies and bar heaters and Flying Nun bands and greasy food and performance art and toddlers swathed in seven layers of wool to go play on the beach.
But that was then, and even though I wasn't a scarfie, I passed through like a scarfie and Dunedin has carried on without me, just as I have carried on without it. As I write this in a cold Opoho house I'm looking across the valley to green hills and a blustery (8 degrees) wind shakes the trees but the white clouds are scudding across a blue sky letting the sun come and go. It's time to put on my warmest jacket and venture out for lunch with Jane who remembers me from before Dunedin: as little girls playing dolls in Hamilton. I am Hamilton too, and that's a whole 'nother story...