When I was a boy, Aotearoa’s history always started with Dutch explorer Abel Tasman deciding after sailing all this way from some unnamed place, he couldn’t be bothered calling in for a stopover and continued on to Australia. Next, in history came the triumphant arrival of James Cook (cue the playing of ‘Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches’) and thus began life in the land of the long white cloud.
Fortunately, it is now being recognised that life in Aotearoa had been pretty successful pre-Cook’s arrival. In actual fact, 500 years before Cook decided to have a wee look around, Polynesian explorers were using state of the art sailing craft and had proven themselves to be expert scientists, engineers, mathematicians and innovators.
So it is interesting to me that we still mark Otago Anniversary Day. Don’t get me wrong, I am never one to turn down a public holiday however it does seem a tad erroneous to commemorate the Scottish settlers arrival in Port Chalmers on the ship the John Wickcliffe, when local Māori had already been living in the area for a substantial period of time. I came to this conclusion during an afternoon wander around the port where the province was ‘born’.
I had started by visiting the spot in Port Chalmers where the pioneer settlers landed from a boat off the John Wickliffe and had set off from there. A patch of blue sky had appeared above and with hopes that the day would continue to improve, I decided a stroll was in order.
I spent some time wandering around the various streets looking at buildings from angles I hadn’t seen before, my attention continually drawn back to the former Bank of New Zealand building that sat in a prominent place on the corner overlooking the wharf. The architecture of the bank clearly showed that the port was once an important part of the Dunedin landscape, however like many of its surrounding contemporaries it had seen better days. Since ending its days as a bank, in more recent times it was owned by famous New Zealand artist Ralph Hotere who used it as an art studio. So, if that isn’t a good enough reason to immediately turn it into an art gallery, there never will be.