Because Of William McLean

The Long and Winding Road

When Wellingtonian William McLean imported the first two cars into New Zealand in 1898 he can’t of been aware of the chaotic madness he was about to unleash on the country. 

Just what the 53 year old Scotsman and former politician was doing in Wellington in the first place is an interesting tale. Born in Grantown (a district of North Edinburgh), Scotland and the son of a shoemaker, William was first adopted by a parish priest before he moved to Rochdale in England to work as a cotton spinner at the age of 13. When the American Civil War caused a cotton famine, at the age of 18, William decided to head for New Zealand and the Otago Gold Rush. 

Unlike many others who ventured into the Otago gold fields with the hopes of finding a fortune, William it seems, had some success. After making enough money to open a small shop, when the West Coast Gold Rush in Hokitika sprung up, William packed up and headed for the coast. The West Coast must have suited him because during his time there he not only prospected for gold, he was a schoolmaster, an auctioneer and a mining and commission agent. At this point, in April 1877, William married Mary Elizabeth Crumpton where they continued to live happily on the coast until they moved to Wellington in 1884. Once again, William held several positions of employment which included an auctioneer, secretary for the Wellington Loan Company before becoming secretary to the Empire Loan and Discount Company and standing for parliament. 

After coming last in the 1881 Inangahua election, he was also unsuccessful in the 1887 Thorndon election and the 1890 Wellington election before successfully winning the 1892 City of Wellington by-election. William’s time in office lasted until he lost his seat in the general election of 1893. What all this means is that William McLean’s contribution to life in New Zealand wasn’t as a great businessman, he wasn’t known for heroic deeds on the gold fields and he clearly wasn’t a politician with a long and lasting career. Yet, his contribution to New Zealand’s identity is long reaching and forever lasting. William McLean’s gift to New Zealand, was the 1898 McLean Motor-car act. 

The act of 1898 which was passed in government legalised the operation of motor vehicles and set out the rules under which McLean’s two Benz cars imported from Pairs could operate. Among the rules and regulations that William McLean (and other motorists in years to come) had to follow was that they must be lit after dark and did not go faster than 12 miles ( 20 kilometers) per hour.’ Just think, if we could have somehow brought William McLean forward in time with one of his Parisian Benz cars to the year 2020, even he would have had to slow down on George Street in Dunedin to make the recently enforced 10 kilometers an hour speed limit. Although he would have found the assortment of blue and red dots covering the street quite bewildering. 

And so it was that in 1898, thanks to William McLean, New Zealand’s love affair with cars was born.


A Tourist In New Zealand

This is part three of three. The full text which I’m calling ‘The Long and Winding Road – Prologue’ is too long to publish in a single post, so it has been broken into three parts.  Last week I published part two: This Calls For A Spotify Playlist. Today is part three: A Tourist in NZ.

III

A few days later I found myself discussing all things Covid 19. The conversation traversed the topics of hand sanitation, hygiene standards, social distancing, contact tracing and how wonderful life in Aotearoa was under Alert 2. The hysteria of being able to line up for hours in our vehicle to get McDonalds and KFC had died down and it was generally accepted that while we were all sick of our own cooking, Alert Level 2 was far better than Level’s 3 and 4. After all, we now had takeaway shops back, we could stock-up on alcohol, extend our bubbles, use QR codes and send kids back to school. With the number of new Covid 19 cases dropping by the day and local travel opening up, it seemed New Zealand was the place to be. I must admit, I was more than ready to spend a few hours wandering along a beach, swimming in the ocean or roaming through the wilderness. There were towns, forests, mountains, lakes and beaches to see and I was just a little bit excited. 

Later that same day, sometime after 6pm in the evening, I found myself listing potential ideas for upcoming blog posts while the evening news droned on in the background. I try if at all possible to avoid the 6pm news on TV. I find it repetitive, onerous and completely exhausting to sit through. Despite my misgivings about the nightly bulletin, I watched as they cut to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. In an effort to stimulate the local economy she was telling everyone to take a local holiday. She had received a letter from a lady called Judith who was looking forward to getting a haircut and seeing Aotearoa once out of lockdown.

“my message to everyone is to go and get that haircut and see your own backyard” she said. 

I assumed she meant this figuratively and not literally. Following the Covid 19 lockdown I’d seen quite enough of my own backyard over the last few months and I didn’t have any desire to stay put if I could help it. The possibilities started to spark in my mind. I could improve my knowledge of my own country’s identity by taking a look at it through fresh eyes. My mind whirled, I could write and photoblog about my own backyard. After all, the Prime Minister was telling me to do so and it didn’t seem right to argue with her. I would call it, Jacinda’s Law.  

For the briefest of periods I carefully considered what this would mean. Clearly I couldn’t just take off on an endless grand adventure, that would be ludicrous and totally impracticable. For one thing my job prevented this. But, I could use Jacinda’s Law as a sort of guide when time allowed. Where possible I would headout into my own backyard and take stock of this great country called Aotearoa, reconnecting with its identity. Are we still a nation obsessed with Fresh Up, Fush & Chups, Buzzy Bees, The Pavlova, Paua Shells, The Edmonds Cookbook, L & P, The All Blacks, Gumboots, Jandels, Hokey Pokey Ice Cream with a No 8 Wire mentality? Are these items redolent of New Zealand life or just of an urban myth sold off to tourists who drive on the wrong side of the road and decorate bushes with loo paper.

There were of course some obvious obstacles that would make this more challenging than it first appeared. In the South Island for example, The Southern Alps would clearly limit my travel options. It isn’t possible to continuously zigzag across the country at will as it is in Britain. There are only four points where you can cross the Alps via road and often they are closed in winter. To drive from Dunedin on the East Coast to Hokitkia on the West Coast is a distance of 548 kilometers with a driving time of nearly 7 hours. An alternative option is to travel through Haast. This is somewhat closer at a distance of only 400 kilometres and 5 hours driving time. Another potential obstacle is the small matter of Aotearoa being split into three main islands. The North and South Islands and Stewart Island. These geographical challenges meant I would have to keep my travels local, stopping at all the small incidental places around Dunedin that I usually drive past without giving a second thought too. Then, I would venture further afield out into the vast beyond of Aeoteroa during school holidays, long weekends and when time permitted and regularly blog about my travels.

The Prime Minister had clearly given me a sign and who am I to argue with someone who has successfully led a country through a mass shooting, a volcanic eruption and a global pandemic all in 12 months. 

I particularly liked the idea of rediscovering all the nooks and crannies of Dunedin and Otago that I had forgotten about. I also liked the thought of being able to answer people when they asked me why I was doing this. I would look them in the eye and then adjust my gaze over their shoulder to the horizon, tilt my head back slightly and say with a look of thoughtful confusion and a touch of daring, ‘because Jacinda told me too’.

There was also a long weekend coming up, Queens Birthday, and a chance to rebook a scheduled autumn trip to Arrowtown. The timing seemed almost perfect.

But before that late autumn adventure, I had an ipod to re-find, a Spotify playlist to adjust, hundreds of kilometres ahead of me in my weekly commute and a chance visit to the small nook of Evansdale Glen.

Baldwin Street, North Dunedin, Dunedin.

Continue reading A Tourist In New Zealand

This Calls For A Spotify Playlist

This is part two of three. The full text which I’m calling ‘The Long and Winding Road’ is too long to publish in a single post, so it has been broken into three parts.  Last week I published part one: Daisies, Watermelon and The Rolling Stones. Today is  part two; This Calls For A Spotify Playlist. Next week part three: A Tourist in NZ.

II

The Long and Winding Road: This Calls For A Spotify Playlist. There really are only two ways I listen to music these days. On my ipod and via Spotify on my phone or computer. I don’t count listening to music on the radio as this is something I’m forced into now that Radiosport is no longer on the air.

On the morning drive to work, Radiosport was my go to channel. Now I’m forced to choose between bird calls on the National Programme, Mike Hosking complaining about the Prime Minister and the Labour Party on Newstalk ZB or music that I don’t enjoy or understand. While I’m sure I could easily find a radio station that I like, what it boils down to is that on my travels, I miss my radio station, Radiosport.

Radiosport was the most glorious of stations. Sports coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. It was my default station no matter where I was. Be it at home or in the car, radiosport would play until I decided which podcast or playlist I’d entertain myself with. Unfortunately, it seems that men aged between 30 to 60 talking about rugby all day didn’t pay the bills and after 25 years of broadcasting it was taken off the air. I must admit, I am still working through the seven stages of grief with this loss of my longtime companion and the drives to and from work and the travels around Aotearoa just aren’t the same. I didn’t think I’d miss the continual analysis of ‘the problem with the Blues’, how ‘the Warriors are still a mathematical chance to make the playoffs’ or how the All Blacks are the best team in the world despite losses to Australia, South Africa, Ireland and god forbid – England, as much as I do.

A great source of comfort in working through the stages of grief (currently I’m sitting between stages five and six, anger and depression) has been my iPod and Spotify. As simple as my iPod is, Spotify seems wonderfully technical. I can load it on my computer and phone through a simple app and then stream it via bluetooth to all sorts of places. In one touch I can leap between music genres that have no business following each other and happily create playlists that make sense to me and me alone. My current rotation ranges from Blind Willie McTell, Buddy Holly, Lead Belly and BB King to The Doors, Bob Dylan, Nirvana and The Offspring.

A short time back I once invested time exploring all the playlist selections that were available to me. Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to find out what was included in a ‘Mood’ playlist. This is a decision that I instantly regretted. Not learning from my mistake, I then ventured into playlists called Even Flow, We Be Vibin, Confidence Boost and Front Left. After a few minutes of scrolling and scanning through titles and artists I didn’t know, including a playlist called ‘You Do You’ I decided that this wouldn’t enhance my mood when navigating icy New Zealand roads at 7am on a chilly winter morning. In fact, they’d probably have the opposite effect. Returning to the search bar and having plenty of time due to being in a Covid 19 alert level 4 lockdown, I decided to alter my search to a more local flavour. I wanted to know what was popular in New Zealand on Spotify in 2019 and what local, Kiwi artists I could find for a New Zealand music month playlist.

With the goal of creating a playlist for future roadtrips, I went in search of New Zealand music and trends. Looking at the statistics from 2019, I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that these were local artists that I had actually heard of. Out of the top four, I recognised two of them. That’s 50%, a pass mark in the old fifth form New Zealand school certificate test. A whole 19% more than I achieved in Science back in 1992.

My hopes of being a New Zealand music guru were raised even further when I discovered that at first glance, out of New Zealand’s most streamed local tracks in 2019, I recognised five out of the six bands. That’s an incredible 83%. As quickly as my hopes were raised, they were just as soon dashed when I concluded that having heard the name of the band, doesn’t mean you know anything about them. Or, being able to name the address of a student flat in Castle Street, Dunedin doesn’t automatically mean you know the band’ songs. I read the list which contained titles called Vibes, The Greatest, Don’t Forget Your Roots and Don’t Give It Up. I quickly realised that I knew none of these.

My fall from grace of being a New Zealand music guru was only added too when I discovered that New Zealand’s most streamed international artists consisted of Khalid, Post Malone, Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande. I desperately searched my mind for some type of knowledge of these rock megastars but all I could recall was that Ed Sheeran played three concerts in Dunedin last year, and there’s a painting of him on a wall in the central city.

My initial excitement of having a great, in depth knowledge of the New Zealand music scene had quickly plummeted and showed no sign of abating with the more I found out. I now had to face the sobering reality I knew more about Science in the fifth form, than I did about New Zealand music in my 40’s. A fact I’m ashamed to admit it is probably true. My brief flirtation with modern Kiwi music had resulted in abject failure. I began to wonder what else I didn’t understand or know about this great country called Aotearoa.

I made a mental note that I needed to improve my knowledge of my own country’s identity. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but it would soon come to be a very prophetic thought.

Next week, Part 3: A Tourist In NZ.

Otago Harbour from Mount Cargill

Continue reading This Calls For A Spotify Playlist

Daises, Watermelon and The Rolling Stones

This is part one of a three. The full text which I’m calling ‘The Long and Winding Road’ is too long to publish in a single post, so it has been broken into three parts. Today, part one: Daisies, Watermelon and The Rolling Stones. Next week part two: This calls for a Spotify playlist.

I

The Long and Winding Road: Daisies, Watermelon and The Rolling Stones. One thing that I’ve noticed recently, is that I don’t have as firm an understanding of life around me as I thought. I had this realisation one day as I flicked through the numerous TV channels on offer while I lay in bed. Having recently had my appendix removed after a late night divorce between myself and the offending organ, I had plenty of time to make my way through the television programming choices on offer. Most mornings, I would flick through the channels before giving up and loading a Netflix series to binge. However, one particular morning, instead of quickly glancing over the infomercials as I always did, I found myself pausing with intrigue. Someone had finally invented an item that would allow me to slice, dice, chop, peel and even grate with total protection and precision. It was made of flexible polyethylene and copper fibre yarn and had standard level 5 resistance. This was a glove! But, no ordinary glove, this was a Sharp Shield Glove. 

‘I do cut myself an awful lot while cooking’ I remarked, as another equally inventive item was suddenly displayed in front of me. The next short while was spent deciding whether or not to purchase all sorts of gadgets and devices that would improve my life most wonderfully. They had carefully been designed to make me feel happier and healthier, improve my looks, get me into shape and give me ‘rock hard abs’ while at the same time being a great money saving deal! The one thing that bothered me, was if I’d have time to be one of the first 18,000 callers to qualify for the ‘buy 1 get 1 free promotion’. Further to this problem, was where to store all these life changing items and what my wife would say if she arrived home to find the house filled with iwalks, Bambillo Mattresses, Pain Erazors, Renovator 4 Piece Better Grips, pieces of Total Gym Equipment, A Finishing Touch Flawless Leg thing and a pair of Sharp Shield Gloves that would allow me to grab the sharpest knife around the blade without restricting my movement or comfort. After some cognitive reasoning, I decided that it was best to pass on these once in a lifetime offers and continued my flick through the channels.   

I skimmed past some other mindless shows when suddenly I found something completely unrecognisable blaring out at me. After several seconds of desperately trying to get the volume under control, I concluded that this was in actuality, the music channel. On screen was a naked and pregnant Katy Perry standing in a rock pool by a small waterfall claiming people ‘tell her that she’s crazy, but she’ll never let them change her, till they cover her in daisies!’ Next up was Harry-someone singing about Watermelon on a beach. I must confess that in all honesty I genuinely didn’t know who 90% of the people were. As the video’s flipped through, I did begin to see a pattern emerging. Generally the video’s started with a skimpily clad young lady with a tattoo of a brightly colored and petite heart, a crescent moon or something spelt wrong in fancy italic writing appearing on screen who would sing about how ‘it’s a girl thing’ and how she doesn’t ‘need no man’, that her life had now improved ‘without him’ and she was going to prove it to ‘her girlfriends’. She would do this by dressing in next to nothing, showing off her big boobs, botox lips and erotically dancing with a dozen equally naked men. All the directors had clearly been given the outline of ‘semi-pornographic’ which accompanied a set of unintelligible lyrics. Wondering if I had missed the musical genius of these tunes, I decided all in all this was far too confusing for me and that I much preferred music I could listen to without watching. With that, I vowed to find my ipod and headed out for a short walk in the fresh air as quickly possible.

The next short while was spent hunting for the elusive item which was located in a miscellaneous collection of odds and ends in a basket that sits on our kitchen bench. This led me to another realisation. I have an innate ability to misplace objects, no matter how carefully I place them down. 

Some years back I once lost a large and expensive tripod at a local beach. I had spent a lovely Sunday afternoon having a lengthy walk along the stretch of coast that runs from Blackhead mining quarry to the settlement of Waldronville and back again. The beach itself is 13 kilometres Southeast of Dunedin city centre and is a popular spot for walking, running and surfing, depending on the weather conditions. If you happen to be there when an Antarctic polar blast hits, it can be a miserable place but in the warm afternoon sun, with the tide out, such as it was on this day, it’s a beautiful spot to be. Having finished my stroll and placing my tripod down (which I was carrying) while unloading my gear, I went around to the back of my car, placed my camera gear and gumboots in the boot, changed back into shoes, got into the car and headed home listening to the latest rugby analysis on radiosport. How it’s possible to forget owning a tripod within five to seven steps I am not sure. This is a feat I managed to successfully accomplish as it wasn’t until I was halfway home that it dawned on me that I was returning with less equipment than when I departed. Arriving back in the car park, I discovered that not only was my tripod gone, so too were the three other cars that had gathered there. In their place they had kindly left a semi empty tub of KFC scattered on the ground which the local seagull colony were gladly enjoying, accompanied with a few bottles that once contained Woodstock Bourbon and Cola. Tripodless and with a hankering for KFC, I departed once again for home. To this day, my tripod is always the first thing I put in my car! 

Having already spent enough of the morning listening to things I didn’t understand, I clutched my ipod and I began the task of untangling my headphones while attempting to locate my shoes.  Once unraveled and with my shoes located and tied, I happily headed out the front door for the first time that morning listening to something I both understood and enjoyed (The Rolling Stones). I walked with a renewed spirit of hope and optimism that I would never misplace anything ever again.


Next week part two:

II

The Long and Winding Road: This Calls for a Spotify Playlist.

A Place With No NameA Place With No Name
From the series: A Place With No Name (2018)

Continue reading Daises, Watermelon and The Rolling Stones

By The Arrow River

The Echoing Path

I’m not sure Central Otago and the Lakes District have a bad season, if you like extremes that is. The summers are deliciously hot and the winters intensely cold making them completely unique. Unfortunately, they are heavily reliant on international tourists and with those dollars not coming in at the moment it means areas like Queenstown, Arrowtown and Lake Teakpo are hoping that Kiwi’s take a local holiday.

There are so many great reasons to visit Arrowtown and at the moment it’s full of colour, giving it yet another distinctive season. If you get a chance to explore the Chinese Village by the Arrow River then the autumn leaves, trees and colours will astound you with deep oranges, fiery reds and warm yellows. I had a trip all planned before the whole Covid 19 thing hit. The idea was to spend a few days exploring the colours of autumn in and around Arrowtown. Instead we all ended up in lockdown at home. Maybe it’s one local holiday that could be rescheduled.


Autumn Colour, Arrowtown

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Silent Observations

Exhibition 2015

Following on from my 2011 exhibition A Rugged Paradise, I was invited to hang a two months exhibition at Dunedin Airport as part of their ‘Artist in the Terminal’ programme in early 2015. The initial planning for this exhibition began in late 2012 with shooting taking place in locations around Otago during 2013 and 2014. After the two month run at the airport ended in March, 2015, the art works went on to be displayed in numerous locations around Dunedin before finding permanent homes across Otago. What follows is a rerelease of my 2015 exhibition, Silent Observations.

Exhibition Introduction:
I was 12 when I first started using my parent’s camera on family outings. I’ll never forget going to a four wheel drive rally and finding just the right spot to photograph the vehicles as they made their way through all sorts of mud puddles and then waiting excitedly for the local pharmacy to have the prints ready. Since then it’s been a constant search, looking for moments of beauty or action to capture for people to view and enjoy.  I’ll also never forget going on summer holidays to all corners of the Otago region, and some of the sights still last in the back of my mind – recalled as I revisit some locations all these years later.

The only time I’ve really put the camera down is when I embarked on my teaching career that has seen me teach primary school both here and in the United Kingdom. These days I try and balance the life of a primary school teacher with the life of a photographer

Once I was well into my teaching career a shift happened between photography growing into a passion and the desire and aspiration to be more creative. Hidden within the cracks and spaces that separate passion, desire and creativity, a transition started to happen – a transition from Photographer to Artist.

At the moment, I’m increasingly viewing the world through an arrangement of shape, colour, angle, perspective and light. For some reason, I’m drawn to the notion of annotating and transcribing the world around me, not as a passive bystander but as an active participant who alternates between participant and observer, exploring and experiencing new places, sights and sounds. I also find that the notion of telling a story in a single frame, making the viewer feel something and documenting through images and words is highly intriguing to me. Rather than chasing the perfect shot, I’m interested in journeys, voyages and stories.

Silent Observations

This collection of images is based on the notion of Silent Observations. These Silent Observations happen in slow brain time, where looking is more important than doing. It’s a story, a moment, a time, a place, a feeling, a state of mind and a sense that time can stand still. This is my own wee corner of the world, where I share the stories behind my images while trying to seeking out and capture the still, silent and timeless places in New Zealand’s South Island. In a way all these images are my observations and annotations, the things I’ve noticed or will try to explain by way of viewing, watching and looking. My notes aren’t taken with a pen, they’re taken with a camera as I quietly watch the world go by for a while.

My images are about the human experience; the curiosity and inquisitiveness to explore; to feel and to hear.  These are my stories, my Silent Observations of this life as I journey from place to place.

I hope you enjoy

John Caswell

There Grows The Human SpiritThere Grows The Human Spirit (2014).
White Island and Saint Clair Beach, St Clair – Dunedin.

Continue reading Silent Observations

The Day My Appendix Went Psycho

The Can’t Sleep Blues

My intention today was to bring you a lovely tale recounting a recent adventure along one of Dunedin’s wonderous walking trails, accompanied with some lovely photography that would leave you and your friends completely spellbound. However, on Saturday my appendix went psycho and completely stuffed everything up! The result of this early morning, psychotic rampage by one of my internal organs is that my appendix and I have officially divorced.

It all began early on Saturday morning when my appendix woke me up just after 1am and announced it wanted a separation. Initially, I thought the uncomfortableness was the result of a pulled stomach muscle or an extremely intense digestion issue that would pass with sleep. In the preceding hours, my appendix, determined to have its own way, transferred the pain from my stomach to the lower right region of my abdomen where it parked itself and announced its intention to deny me sleep until it’s wish for a divorce was granted. 

After some harsh words were exchanged in an all night argument between my appendix and I, it became clear in the ED department mid-morning that a divorce was the only option. With the full realisation that a 43 year union was coming to an end and this tube-shaped sac attached to and opening into the lower end of the large intestine was no longer going to be part of me, I wondered what it even did, if anything? Did it have a particular function or has it just been along for the ride all this time? 

Having been admitted onto a ward with three other patients, I lay back on my bed, in pain, nil by month, questions going unanswered, hoping it would be a quick separation without a lengthy custody battle. As the waiting hours passed, afternoon turned to evening, evening turned to night and it became clear that the final separation would happen first thing in the morning. I ate a little, I drank what water I could get my hands on, listened to the jingling of the handcuffs coming from the two policemen walking patients around the ward and started to drift off to sleep. 

What followed was the strangest night’s sleep I’m likely to ever have! My lower abdomen swollen and in pain, prevented me from getting any real sleep while the rhythmic ticking of the drip next to me didn’t help. Nor did the hospital noises of trolley’s, patients and lights, all which can be understood in the circumstances and ignored with a little pain relief! 

What couldn’t be ignored was the bloke in the bed next to me, attempting to break the Guiness World Record for the loudest snore! How it’s possible for the human body to make such a noise is quite beyond me. The next 6 to 8 hours were spent drifting in and out of a drug fueled sleep, trying to stay comfortable, while the ear plugs I had obtained from the nurse in a game of charades played at 11:00pm did little to block out the noise beside me. Imagine if you will, the sound of a rhinoceros in its death throes being attacked by a pride of lions while Darth Varder is having an asthma attack and you’re getting close to the sounds that my roommate was producing at a volume that was shaking the windows and rattling the walls. This chorus of noise only drew to a halt at around 3am when from somewhere up the hall, someone decided that they didn’t like the food they had eaten and scattered it all over the floor causing all sorts of machines to deep and the ward to temporarily spring to life.

Eventually morning came with the twinkling of lights and the nurse producing a pair of sexy whilte compression stockings for me, to go with the lovely white hospital gown.  Having completed the ‘Dunedin hospital look’ and feeling very confident that I was indeed ‘owning it’ as they say in the fashion world, the nurse greeted me with a pleasant and cheerful good morning, which I returned in the most polite, coherent response I could manage. She then continued on her duties and proceeded to the man next to me, again greeting him with a cheerful good morning and asking him how he slept, to which he responded with a very upbeat and enthusiastically  “great!” 

I won’t repeat what I muttered to myself but when he mentioned how annoying it was being woken at around 3am by the commotion up the hall I could have swung for him. I’m not a violent person and I’m not drawn to acts of violence. In fact there’s only been one occasion when I’ve wanted to leap out of bed and physically hurt someone with a breakfast tray and a plastic cup and this was it. But, as I didn’t want to spoil the sexy white compression stockings I was now wearing, I decided to remain calm, went to a place of zen and waited to be wheeled off to surgery. 

The rest of the events over the next 24 hours were a mix of clarity and vagueness. Separating fact from fiction. I quickly discovered injection points, operational scars, shaved body parts and movements that hurt. I discovered there was no pain where there was pain before and that my shoulder hurt. It took me a while longer to remember greeting the whole surgical team in the theater and being amazed by the amount of people that had gathered just for me. It took me even longer to recall being told to take five depth breathes and thinking that they should have photos on the ceiling for people to look at. I relatively quickly recalled talking to the hospital orderly about hamburgers as he wheeled me back to the ward however it took me another three days to remember his recommendation for a great burger, Ombrellos. 

Now, finding myself at home resting and recovering, I am extremely thankful for all the well wishes, lovely thoughts and messages. I’m also extremely thankful to all the nurses who cared for me and the job they do. At one point last year I recall that nurses were renegotiating their pay claim. I sincerely hope they got what they asked for. In my experience these wonderful people can’t get paid enough.

A Rugged Paradise

Exhibition 2011

Back in mid 2010, I set myself the challenge of putting together a solo photographic exhibition to show case my work. Having no experience in setting up shows whatsoever, I naively thought it would simply be a case of choosing a few images, buying some frames, finding a display space and inviting a few friends. The reality was very different. I quickly found myself conversing with professional art dealers in topics I had never thought of, thinking about art in a whole new way and the very being of who I am, challenged. What follows is a rerelease of my 2011 exhibition, A Rugged Paradise.

Welcome, I am pleased to present to you the inaugural solo photographic exhibition by John Caswell, released in October 2011. The exhibition features beautiful crafted landscape images from around the Dunedin are. The exhibition draws providence from ‘The Rugged Paradise’ that the early Scottish settlers found when they landed in Dunedin (New Edinburgh) in 1841. 

Traveling slightly off the beaten track, over 26 contemporary photographs are on display, ranging from the Otago Peninsula and travelling down the east coast to St Clair and beyond, as well as venturing inland over the Taieri Plans and through the Dunedin Bush. 

This exposition celebrates the rocky, harsh, yet beautiful place that is Dunedin.

Wooden Poles On St Clair BeachWooden Poles On St Clair Beach (St Clair Beach, 2010).

Continue reading A Rugged Paradise

Butlers & Fitzgeralds

To Chance Your Arm

I missed the point in history when gift shops started popping up in Churches, but then I also missed the point when all politicians, heads of state and Kings and Queens were honest loyal citizens who were respected and looked up to for their integrity and principles. The pages of history are littered with nobles and powerful families who act in ways that seem to range from just a little peculiar to acts of complete lunasee. 

In the 15th Century, two powerful Irish families that competed for positions of power were the Butlers and the Fitzgeralds. The Butlers of Ormonde and the Fitzgeralds of Kildare didn’t like each other very much. Saying that these two Irish clan’s found each other repugnant might even be a little kind. The fact is that these two families despised each other. 

At the time of 1492, parts of Ireland were ruled by the King of England (The King of England was also the Lordship of Ireland) who was Henry VII. As Henry was a very busy person and couldn’t be in two places at once, he was represented locally in Ireland. At this time in Ireland, the King’s representative was called the Viceroy of Ireland. As the Viceroy was also a very busy person, he too had a deputy. This position was called the Lord Deputy. It was this high position of office that the powerful James Butler and Gerald Fitzgerald were bitterly arguing over. Unfortunately the appointment of Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1492 was not the honest, calm and well-mannered debate of modern day elections. The years of hostility, bickering and disagreement between the two families broke out into a violent conflict of outright warfare.

Outside the city walls of Dublin, the fighting escalated into a brutal battle which obviously started to go badly for the Butler’s as he and his followers took refuge at St Patrick’s Cathedral. Once at the Cathedral, the Butlers then bolted themselves inside the Chapter House. Angered by this, Fitzgerald followed them into the Cathedral, thumping on the door that separated the Cathedral from the Chapter House, demanding they come out. Afraid they would be slaughtered, the Butlers refused. 

Fortunately sanity took hold of the situation when Fitzgerald realised that here were two families, living in the same country, worshiping in the same church, trying to kill each other.  Needing to show his honest intent, Fitzgerald ordered a hole be cut in the middle of the door. When it was finished, an undefeated and defenceless Fitzgerald, at risk of having his arm chopped off, thrust it through the hole and extended his hand in peace. 

At once, Sir James Butler realised that the offer of peace was a serious one, took his hand, shook it and unlocked the door to the Chapter House of St Patrick’s. Restoring peace to the Butlers and Fitzgeralds families, giving us the phrase “to chance your arm” and the Cathedral a nice little gift shop 520 years later.

Now I’m not suggesting this is the way we should solve all our political disagreements or that politicians should risk having their arm chopped off however the idea has some merit. An action like this requires a test subject who would be willing to blindly stick their arm through a hole to a waiting angry mob for no other reason than to prove a point. I would like to suggest we try first with Donald J Trump.

St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Continue reading Butlers & Fitzgeralds

A Walk On The Beach

A Big Adventure In Familiar Surroundings

We’ve been told constantly that exercise is good for us and to walk in your local area. With this in mind and a clear sky above me, I set out for the beach. 

Whenever I go to the beach I can always be assured of one underlying fact. A fact and event so simple it hardly seems worth mentioning. Yet, each time this event happens, my annoyance with myself for letting it occur is only ever matched by my surprise that it has happened at all. No matter how careful I am, no matter how much pre-thought and planning I put in, it always eventuates. And, to make matters worse, the severity of the event will proceed anything else that has happened. I once became so fixated at a local beach trying to avoid this event that I almost stepped onto a fur seal. I can tell you that having a close encounter with an angry fur seal is not a pleasant experience and one that makes you check your underwear afterwards! This cruel and seemingly unavoidable event is of course, getting my shoe and sock wet. Not both, that I could handle. One. It’s only ever a single shoe and sock that gets completely submerged before requiring two days drying time. It’s my beach affliction. 

Knowing that I wanted to keep my feet dry for as long as possible, my planned route would be to take the local streets to the St Clair Esplanade, then venture back via St Clair, Middle and St Kilda Beaches. The grand total of this walk I calculated afterwards was just over 9 kilometres. With the prospect of spending most of the walk with a wet shoe and sock not too enticing, I elected for a return path along the beach, thus ensuring I would have at least half the distance with dry foot wear.  

I set off from the top of Tahuna Road and walked at a brisk pace down a hill that leads past many typical New Zealand quarter-acre sections that were filled with all the sights and sounds of Kiwi’s doing a bit of DIY on a long weekend. Things like water blasting, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, painting the fence, trimming trees. Possibly everything I should have been doing rather than being out walking. 

At this point, at the bottom of the hill, Tahuna Road changes to Victoria Road. I can’t be too sure this applies to all areas of New Zealand or even Dunedin for that matter, but the one aspect of my local area that I often lament over are the street names. Titles such as Tanui, Tahuna, Aotea and Tomahawk have an interesting appeal but the area is also surrounded by streets with names such as Royal Crescent, Queens Drive, King Edward Street and Prince Albert Road. All good names that reflect our colonial heritage but all fairly unimaginative. I often wish that town planners had put a bit more creativity into their street names, like in Sioux City, Iowa which has a street called ‘One Fun Place’ that leads directly to the Jolly Time Popcorn factory or ‘Chicken Dinner Road’ in Idaho. 

As the street started to flatten out, more pondering over local government decisions greeted me with the curious town planning of locating a bowls club, a golf course and an A & P Showgrounds encircling a waste water sewage treatment plant. Many of these decisions had of course been made at the turn of the 1900 century (or thereabouts) and weren’t made with modern day hindsight. Further to this curiosity is the fact that Tahuna Park (formally the A & P show grounds) has the distinction of being an international test rugby venue.

You wouldn’t give it a second glance heading past, but on the 27th August 1905, New Zealand hosted Australia there. The fact the match was played at all was a miracle. The test was originally scheduled to be played across town at Carisbrook but so heavy was the rain and atrocious the weather leading up to match day the test was about to be scrapped when a city wide hunt for a playable surface was found at Tahuna Park. Reportedly around 3000 people flocked to the ground to see New Zealand win their 3rd ever test match 14 to 7. It must surely be one of the unlikeliest international test rugby venues in history. There can’t be too many right beside a poo-plant either I would imagine.

Now continuing on and leaving the area of Tainui and St Kilda behind I headed for St Clair and the Esplanade. The one thing I can say is that Dunedinites are an amazingly friendly lot. As I walked through neighbourhoods decorated in bears, chocolate easter eggs and colouring competitions in the window, every person I met gave me a friendly wave and hello. It really is a pleasant feeling to be out walking on a sunny day being passed by people who are as friendly to you, as you are to them. Just as I received another friendly ‘good morning’ I crossed a roundabout that signals that end of Victoria Road, and turned left, through a traffic-less round about and headed for a few steps towards the social hub of the Esplanade of St Clair.

There are few sadder sights than beachfront bars and restaurants closed when they are drenched in warm sunlight on a long weekend. Having arrived at St Clair, it was hard not to notice the emptiness of the place.  Usually on a day like this establishments placed on the Esplanade such as Salt, Starfish, The Esplanade and The Spirit House would be full of customers from dusk to dawn. Today however, I slowly ambled past the shut signs, the Covid 19 enforced closure clearly having an effect on the local economy. Continuing on past signs the advertisements for Steinlager Pure Beer, Roaring Meg Pinot Noir, Shared Platters, Asahi Dry Beer, Kapiti Ice Cream and A Winter Wetsuit Sale. I shook off the sudden urge for a swim, a beer and a bite to eat and continued along the Esplanade.  

As biased as I am, I must confess that I think St Clair beach is a delightful place. At low tide you can walk from the Salt Water Pool and the rocks on the point all the way to Lawyers Head. A distance of some 3.5 kilometers of white, sandy beach. On this day, there was only a very gentle and light onshore breeze, the clear water reflecting the sun and footprints in the sand seemingly going on forever. It was what locals call a dunnerstuner. As I took in the smell of the salt air and the sound of a child asking for an ice cream while determinedly announcing they weren’t walking any further by sitting down, I viewed where my journey home would take me, along the beach. With the rolling rhythmic tone of the waves being drowned out by a child who was no longer sitting but being carried and now more sure than ever that they did indeed want an ice cream, I headed down to the beach. 

To get to the beach I needed to navigate down a short flight of stairs and step on the beach via a small set of rocks. Stopping at the bottom of the stairs, I carefully took stock of the situation, picked the easiest and safest path from the stairs, to the rock, to the beach and sprang forward. My first step went as planned, I landed on my right foot and quickly continued my momentum forward, pushing off again from the rock as soon as I had landed and stretched out my left foot, preparing for a safe beach landing. No! Instead my left foot went straight into an unseen puddle of water that the tide had left behind, engulfing my shoe, sock, ankle – the lot. I stood looking at the dripping mess that was now my left foot. Then up at the long stretch of beach ahead of me. I sighed and set off. The child’s screams for ice cream having been replaced with the squelching of my left foot. 

One of the fascinating aspects of Dunedin beaches is the increasing wildlife population that can be seen. A walk on the beach at any time can result in fur seals, penguins and all sorts of other bird life being spotted. Only a few weeks ago dolphins were spotted from this very beach and in 2016 a grouping of rare Shepherd’s Beaked Whales was also spotted just off the coast, causally drifting past. On this occasion I wasn’t so fortunate to spot any of the aforementioned species, I did spot something that is nevertheless as intriguing. A former rubbish dump being exposed from erosion. When the decision was made to create this landfill over a hundred twenty years ago it seems that everything washing into the sea can’t have been high on the agenda. 

Now, some 100 years later after the dump was capped and turned into playing fields known as Kettle Park, parts of it appear to be one good storm away from collapsing and crumbling onto the beach. In 2007, when parts of the landfill became exposed, tests found traces of arsenic, asbestos and other industrial chemicals in nearby sand dunes. An ongoing tribute to the genius idea of putting a landfill beside a beach, what could possibly go wrong! 

My beach walk eventually came to an end at Lawyers Head, my squelching foot now having collected what seemed like half the sand on the beach. It’s called Lawyers Head because the profile of this large land promontory is meant to look like a lawyer in traditional legal wig. I’m not sure where the person was standing when they came up with this idea, but it certainly isn’t anywhere close to a vantage point I’ve had. The last leg of my walk took me over the fairways of Chisholm Park and into the local cemetery. 

As home came into sight at the top of the hill, I passed timeworn headstones with names such as Reginald, Ferdinand, Gertrude, Linford, Ike, Desmond and Fanny on them. It was then that I noted that the noise of DIY jobs like water blasting, trimming hedges, mowing lawns, painting the fence and trimming trees had ended. I thought about my own list of jobs, most of which had been started but not finished. I then remembered the unwritten Kiwi male law that states I’m allowed to finish these jobs, when I get around to it. 

St Kilda, Middle and St Clair Beach from Lawyers Head.

Continue reading A Walk On The Beach

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