How Dunedin Gets Its Groove Back
Last week, as duly reported by the Otago Daily Times, City Councillor Michael Guest, civil servant and former lawyer, came out and said that Dunedin is doing it wrong. If tourism is what Dunedin is after, Cr Guest suggests, then it needs more â€œsex, drugs and rock n roll.â€ Critic could not agree more, and resident bon vivant and renaissance man Aaron Hawkins was set to task making it happen. Here, free of standard consultancy extortion, is a plan to revolutionise tourism in this city, for far less than the price of a fancy glass mezzanine.
From Dowdy, Dowdy to Rowdy, Rowdy
For too long Dunedin has played it far too safe in terms of its promotion, often using the crutch of billing itself as a â€˜gateway townâ€™ â€“ close to Queenstown, the Catlins, penguins, the peninsula â€“ rather than going for the headlining spot itself. A bit like the old adage that Hamilton is â€˜two hours from anywhere goodâ€™, Dunedin has the potential to be far more than a last-gas-before-the-albatross town, and become an attraction in its own right. Current grand schemes before the Dunedin City Council, including the now notorious Awatea Street Stadium development, are stuttering methods of cashflow at best, and appeal in reality to a small percentage of the population. A handful of
big rugby matches is indeed a benefit to the community, if you set the funding of the project to one side momentarily, but more consistent income is needed for the city to really flourish. With the University looking likely poised to further restrict undergraduate enrolment numbers, the unstoppable cash cow of the student hordes is looking less lucrative than it has in a while. To borrow from Sir William Birch, Dunedin needs to Think Big.
Like any good, red-blooded male, Michael Guest is responding where
it counts. Sex. Drugs. Rock n roll. Dunedin sits in Calvinist stoicism amid a gently ebbing tide of middle-class mediocrity and bland conservatism; nature walks, military relics, rare birds, a really big house, a really old house, Scottish Ã©migrÃ© nostalgia. Even the rebellious punk attitude of scratchy 1980s guitar bands has faded into middle-aged nostalgia. David Kilgour gigs will generally finish before midnight, for example, in time to get the babysitter home again. Itâ€™s nobodyâ€™s fault, but itâ€™s just gotten a bit complacent around here lately. The forefathers of tourism certainly had some good ideas, but in 2008, theyâ€™re just not enough anymore. You certainly neednâ€™t look further than the embarrassment of the last round of DCC-funded advertisements to realise that.
Sex Sells â€“ The Burlesque Quarter
The founding tenet of contemporary advertising, you have to be prepared, in some cases, to let go of a few pesky prejudices. There is nothing wrong, morally or legally, with working in the sex industry. The myth that it is staffed by victims is exactly that, a myth. Some of the most empowered, strong and intelligent women I have met have worked in strip clubs, and loved it. Itâ€™s naturally not always a first-choice employer, but the moneyâ€™s good, and if you want to buy
your way out of your guilt complex, tip your dancers. It wonâ€™t bankrupt you (even though Dunedinites are quite generous by international standards), and â€“ in Dunedinâ€™s only regular strip revue â€“ they get to keep all the money you give them. As receptive as the ladies at Stilettoâ€™s are, though, healthy competition benefits everyone. Thereâ€™s plenty of real estate available down in the exchange, so if youâ€™re looking for post-grad entrepreneurism, why not put up a pole and
set up shop? If it would further appease the knee-jerk moralists, it shouldnâ€™t be too hard to set up a sex ghetto. With some decent police coverage and security in the initial rubberneck phase, having strip clubs, brothels and lounge bars in a specific quarter serves as both a beacon to visitors, and keeps little Timmyâ€™s obsession with the naked female form to his cache of digital pornography.
This isnâ€™t all about randy voyeurism; this would be an ideal opportunity and environment to open a Swingers Club for consenting adults. Halfway between gay sauna playground and lounge bar, Dunedin lacks a meeting place for adventurous consenting adults, so to speak. Not necessarily a sex club, but high-end design, a killer cocktail menu, funky music and â€“ in a no pressure environment â€“ the facilities for sexual encounters. Such clubs operate fine in other cosmopolitan centres, have long been a popular sanctuary for the homosexual community, and have the opportunity to draw people in regularly from outlying towns and provinces. One such club exists in Christchurch (Club
SE), and is the only one Iâ€™m aware of in the South Island. All these randy couples will need hotel rooms, dinner, and deep heat in the morning, to the benefit of the local economy. It would be a stretch to say that such a venture could survive in the private sector, but if the DCC is willing to fund venues for teenagers to hang out and play in a safe environment (All Ages venues, etc), why not the same for the over-18s? Do they want the swinging community to continue in amidst the family portraiture of suburban homes and badly decorated cheap motel suites? Surely not.
If I can make one cultural prediction for 2008 in Dunedin, it is that there
is going to be a huge resurgence in the art of the burlesque. Bawdy double entendres, stunning dancing girls, plush sets, contortionists, people spinning plates, all served up with a cheeky grin. There is already a burlesque season planned at Sammyâ€™s as part of the Fringe Festival, so this will be a key indicator of the level of support burlesque can pull. The difference between burlesque and their more X-rated lapdance and massage parlour cousins is the difference between sex (which as an industry turns off more people than it turns on in some
circles), and sexy (which is tolerated pretty much across the board, regardless of class, gender or age). For decades tourists, plenty of whom would consider themselves conservative individuals, have flocked to Parisian nightclubs like Crazy Horse for topless titillation they can enjoy guilt free, excusing it as â€˜artâ€™, â€˜theatreâ€™ or â€˜cabaretâ€™. The fact of the matter is that everyone likes to be teased, so why not deck it out with low-level lighting, blinding footlights, girls in corsets playing five yo-yos at once, table service, a lounge band and ruddy-faced banter? Now thatâ€™s classy.
And let us not forget the tertiary education industry, the present backbone of Dunedin life. People need to train in massage, pole dancing, silver service, circus arts â€“ the list goes on. With the government aligning its Research and Development and Tertiary Education portfolios, it is clear they are following the Western trend to align tertiary education with the specific and short-term needs of the economy. Whether you agree with the system or not, you have to agree that these services must be taught for the express benefit of the Dunedin economy, short and long term.
The problem that generally arises here is the lack of willing and / or able staff to take these lucrative jobs down in the Burlesque Quarter. In a town as small as this, do you really want everyone to know you take your clothes off for a living? If the money is right, the marker says yes. Further to this, and in a unique opportunity to bring together the town and gown relationship like never before, thereâ€™s no reason the business community, the DCC and the University of Otago shouldnâ€™t work together on a series of scholarship packages for potential employees. Think of it as being a well-paid civil servant. The transient
and temporary nature of most tertiary students makes them ideal for work in the Burlesque Quarter. Think of them as short-term civil servants. They provide Dunedin with a bustling, lucrative and eventually well-known and popular tourism trade, get an education and a comfortable level of living, and learn plenty of extra-curricular skills to go on their CV. If we give scholarships to fine athletes and minority groups, why not our most impressive and entertaining male and female specimens?
Dunsterdam â€“ The Ganja Quarter
To paraphrase that oft-misquoted scene from Tarantinoâ€™s breakthrough Pulp Fiction, in Amsterdam you canâ€™t just spark up joints anywhere, they want you to smoke in your homes, or certain designated places. While it seems like a pithy one-liner dreamed up in a smoky sitting of Adult Swim cartoons, the Dunsterdam concept has more weight and credibility than you want to give it ready for. In a recent article in NORML News, Dunedin organiser Abe Gray says this: â€œThe optimistic goal of trying to transform ... Dunedin into Dunsterdam, the cannabis capital of the South Pacific is steadily becoming a reality, as more Dunedin residents come out of the closet, stand up for their rights and refuse to be intimidated.â€
Thereâ€™s not necessarily such a need for such a militant stance. Dunedin is already recognised as the most cannabis friendly city in the country, despite the trials of the summer months, and the bizarre and exploitative practice of â€˜Kiwi prohibitionâ€™ being in force. According to one senior policeman here in Dunedin, anecdotal evidence suggests only one in four personal possession charges are properly processed in Dunedin. There is no need to stop there. Just like when the DCC got out the map and some felt tips and drew a liquor ban across North Dunedin, why not pick up the green pen and draw another boundary as
an official cannabis prohibition-free zone? License it for sale in small personal quantities from select outlets (Ã la the Dutch Coffee House set-up), and instruct police to take no action against people in possession of small quantities, a couple of plants maybe. On the flipside of this, take more stern action than ever against the local culture of dodgy middle men selling cannabis to school-aged kids, that sort of thing. If the drug trade neednâ€™t be involved, the greasy exterior
of criminal activity in the cannabis trade would fade quickly.
Aside from freeing up police resources, and saving thousands of students from the paranoia of a career crippling drug conviction, this is about drawing in a new crowd, and a prohibition free North Dunedin would be a major draw for two distinct groups of people. Imagine, combined with the attractions of the forbidden Burlesque Quarter, what the freeing up of cannabis would do as a drawcard for high powered clients? Dunedin would be a prime position to host respected, high end clients of the business community. Host them in a lavish waterside apartment short term, take them out smoking cigars and watching dancers, and have the ability to shuttle them to discreet back entrances of coffee shop VIP rooms, smoking only the finest weed away from any public or legal scrutiny? A haven for the excesses of the rich perhaps, but thatâ€™s the way the market works best.
Secondly â€“ and the University is far more integral in this one â€“ bolster the support and funding of the arts / design / liberal arts / social sciences departments and foster the campus as a hunting ground for debaters, liberal theorists, film scholars and readers of fine literature. Itâ€™s not fashionable in tertiary circles these days, but what could be better than hinting vaguely at James K Baxter and Hone Tuwhare as local literary tradition, and backing it up by actually fostering an environment where a potent literary scene can emerge, under waves of sativa smoke in reading circles in the autumnal Woodhaugh Gardens? OUSA already supports the declaration of the University Campus as a cannabis prohibition-free zone, which covers all first years but few other university residents. It would also make Otago a sought-after institution for post-graduate fellowships and scholarships, both areas that would make the University buckets of cash in the long run, and that seems to be what they like best.
We Werenâ€™t Even Born: Rock N Roll
It is pretty dire times in terms of live music in Dunedin at the moment. The recent demise of the Crown Hotel, over thirty continuous years of providing an open stage for any aspiring band of miscreants with more than three guitar strings between them, has closed one more door. Arc remains a mystery, leaving ReFuel, The Backstage and a reviving Empire to carry the load. Most of these are private businesses that need to sell pricy beer to poor people to try and break even. Itâ€™s a bit of a risk letting unknown bands play, and seeing as the market is so tight now, limited options for touring bands means it could soon be almost impossible for more than a couple of local bands to be playing on any
weekend evening. Dunedin needs a venue to support this, and I see no reason why it shouldnâ€™t be the Dunedin City Council.
Because of the fluid population base of tertiary students, a substantive
subset of which belong to the wannabe rock n roller cliques, more needs to be done to foster younger and permanent residents to step up to the rock n roll plate. All-ages venues have existed in Dunedin in the past, but as far as I know there has never been a club that specialises in playing all-ages shows early in the evening, and then pulling back the curtains for an R18 show later on. The all-ages crowd in Christchurch has been nurtured for years, and now can pull up to 1000 kids for alcohol-free dance parties, and smaller numbers to regularly organised youth concerts. If the Council paid touring bands a decent guarantee, on the proviso they had to play an all-ages show while they were in town, it would do huge amounts to increase the profile and participation of the scene. Itâ€™s going and watching dudes play guitars that make dudes want to play the guitar. The later gigs could then compensate by turning a profit on the bar, which isnâ€™t actually unheard of in this town.
One more prospect for Dunedin that isnâ€™t quite rock n roll but that would be huge for the local entertainment scene on a global scale, would be hosting the Karaoke World Championships. Finland has a grip on them from 2008-10 at this stage, but I think an attractive PowerPoint presentation, that epitome of convincing design, could do wonders. Sure, it would be attracting people in a trashy, Air Guitar Nation kinda way, but if it means we get to take down the reverb a notch up at K World, Iâ€™d be right behind it.