Dùn Èideann

A Walk Along Lower Stuart Street

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Nothing is more comfortable than sleeping in your own bed. After being away for a few nights, I awoke feeling refreshed. I’d survived my Walk In The Snow, my Walk In The Badlands and A Walk In The Bush. Now, I had the day free to myself. With no plans and not having to be relatively useful to anyone, I decided a walk in town would be just the ticket. Besides, there was a Colin McCahon Exhibition showing at the Art Gallery which I very much wanted to see. With the day still young, I headed for Dunedin’s Lower Stuart Street.

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Evansdale Glen

A Walk In The Bush


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I’d imagined Evansdale Glen as nothing more than a small reserve with an impracticable carpark, some scattered picnic tables, an ineffective rubbish bin and a small path leading up to some type of creek or stream. There’s an unwritten rule in Aotearoa that every reserve must be placed beside a waterway of some sort.

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Creative Solitude At Second Beach.

Stop Screaming … I’m Scared Too

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Recently, I found myself traversing a Dunedin street when I came across a sight that both frightened and scared me. While I resisted the urge to scream, I had to admit that I was a little bit scared. As it is, I’m not the only one to feel a tiny bit scared by what can only be described as an invasion. 

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No Chicken Lines

Even silence has a voice

Twice a year, there are times when photography and writing have to take a back seat. One is late June, early July and the other is early December. It’s no coincidence that these times are when school reports have to be written and assessment data analyzed. Unfortunately, these tasks have been occupying my time and mental capacity of late. However, last week I managed to put these tasks to bed and turned my attention back to my newly created ‘Jacinda’s Law’ and exploring Dunedin.

Jacinda’s law states; where possible, we are to get out and see our own backyard. With this in mind, I recently found myself walking up a misty and muddy track on one of Dunedin’s surrounding hills. The beautiful thing about Dunedin is that it’s relatively easy to escape onto a bush track or path. From the city center, you can be on a bush track in 10 minutes if you wish.

Engulfed in mist, the track I was now on twisted and stretched up into the forest. Initially looking like a vehicle access track, it quickly narrowed. Continuing, gently falling rain collected in the autumn leaves which had created a blanket on the narrow bridge. Wet and muddy, with rain running into a stream, the track continued until deep grooves started crisscrossing the trail before me.

Suspecting the trail …..

Suspecting the trail I was on was a mountain bike track, I now feared that I might get struck down at any moment without having the faintest idea of what hit me. Proceeding, but with a greater awareness of my surroundings, I continued on through the mist. I passed exit signs that read ‘No Entry, Rockin Roller Exit’ and ‘No Entry, Three Little Pigs Exit’. As I walked, it became clear that on this day, I had the area to myself. Feeling confident, and no longer worried about being bowled over by an adrenaline filled speed rocket, I continued. My concerns of having to arrive home with tyre makes across my back abated further when a sign appeared that read ‘No Chicken Lines, Don’t Ride Wet.’ Relieved, I spent the next hour exploring the surrounding tracks, jumps and paths that wound their way through the forest. 

Feeling wet, I made my way back to the car as the mist lifted and the rain got heavier. Once again reaching the small bridge, I couldn’t help but get distracted by a casually ambling stream. It appeared from the thick bush, ran under the bridge and continued on down the hillside. I stood listening to the sound of the stream bubbling over rocks and branches. For a moment I forgot about the Dunedin traffic noise. That’s the beauty of nature, even silence has a voice.

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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.

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Thus Sang The Jolly Autumn

To Dunedin’s Autumn Song

If we could somehow bring William Thomson back to life, what would surprise him most- apart from being here at all – would be to find the wonderful and delightful area Dunedin’s town belt has grown into.

But, who is William Thomson? Well I didn’t know either until recently, but it transpires he was, above many other things, a lover of trees! He loved trees so much in planted many in the town belt around the area of Olveston. While he wasn’t solely responsible for all the trees in the town belt, he is responsible for many in the area. 

In actual fact the town belt in Dunedin is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and is only one of three Victorian town belts in the world. Such is the importance of the town belt to Dunedin, the planning of it started on a map in Scotland that was probably stretched out over an old wooden table before settlers arrived in the 1840’s. As Dunedin grew as a city and the gold rush took hold, there became a need to protect and develop it’s green spaces which is where the Dunedin Amenities Society comes into the picture. By the end of 1888 the Society had 245 members (one of whom was William Thomson) and sought to involve itself in conservation and development of the new city including the town belt. 

Skip forward to the year 2020 and at this time of year the temperature drops, the winds pick up and the town belt starts to take on a splendour of colour as the leaves change and eventually float to the ground forming a crunchy blanket on the ground. It’s one of Dunedin’s glorious (and often forgotten) places. William Thomson would be proud of his trees. 

The Town Belt, Dunedin 

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A Cultural Guardian

The Dunedin Kuri

One of the genuinely pleasant aspects of living in Dunedin is that not only are you never too far from anything, but you’re more than likely to bump into people you know at the same time. Usually these random social meetings are an altogether delightful experience as you exchange details about the wonderful spell of weather, how much the kids have grown up and if you are still working at your previous place of employment. I myself had such an encounter down at the esplanade recently when a voice called out to me, which turned out to be a local car dealer who sold me my Hyundai. After a few moments of conversation, I brought up the fact that the am radio frequency seems to drop dramatically in quality when heading out of town, to which he said he’d ‘look into it and get in touch. At the time, I remember thinking how appropriate it was that I was now asking questions about my vehicle, when at the time of sale, all we seemed to discuss was the fortunes of the Highlanders. It’s random social interactions like these that can be a blessing, if like me, you’ve still got jobs sitting on your ‘todo’ list that have been there since before Christmas, 2018!

What does astound me however is my constant ability to forget that places in Dunedin even exist. If I was living in a city the size of London or New York then this would be explainable. I’m certain that everyday in London people open the bent and heavily leafed pages of their A to Z guide discovering places that they had never heard of like Bollocks Terrance, Ha Ha Road and Hanging Sword Alley before popping into an equally unknown pub that is 400 years old and has the word white, king, royal or crown in its title. In Dunedin however, with a population of just 130, 000 I’m not so sure that’s as forgivable. By comparison, Dunedin’s population is the same size as Tonbridge and Malling in Kent and slightly larger than the English county of Cambridgeshire. Having made these discoveries, my astonishment turned to the realisation that maybe I need to get out more.

Having made the firm decision to get out around Dunedin, I turned my attention to finding one of the many art sculptures that are strategically located around the city that I haven’t visited recently. One that had been sitting on my mind was the Kuri/Dog sculpture. I eventually ended up at a place that I remembered having forgotten about, the Otago Yacht Club. If you’ve never been there it’s tucked behind some industrial buildings near Forsyth Barr Stadium and is home to not only a marina but a number of rowing clubs and a squash court. It also has a lovely running and biking track that in one direction takes you back towards the Harbour basin and the other along the harbour to the suburbs of Ravensbourne and Maia and Port Chambers. Once I arrived and abandoned my car I decided on two facts. The first being that on a fine, still day it would be an extremely tranquil and calm place to walk, bike or read the day away. The second being that if the wind was blowing hard down the harbour, it could be an extremely exposed and cold place to be. I, of course, had chosen the latter of these two days to visit. 

My visit to such a location on such a windy day hadn’t been by choice, more bad judgement. Knowing full well that the sculpture wouldn’t be hard to find I spent some time wandering in and out of the various boat clubs, moorings and rowing sheds. After a good twenty to thirty minutes of curiously wandering I deduced that I know absolutely nothing about sailing and my personal vocabulary of nautical terms is extremely limited. I’m certain I would be of no use on a sailing ship and even less use in a pub quiz team specialising in nautical terminology. Having searched all the places in the immediate surroundings, I headed for my goal. A 3m-high sculpture by Stephen Mulqueen called Kuri/Dog which looks up towards the harbour entrance as a cultural guardian looking after Dunedin and the surroundings. 

Now I don’t know about you, but this sculpture makes me smile for some unexplained reason. It also makes me wonder if Tonbridge and Malling in Kent has a large Dog sculpture looking out for its residents or maybe some other oversized animal artwork? It was at this point that I decided that I definitely need to get out more.


Kuri/Dog Sculpture – Order Print

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A Belfast Love Story

True Romance

Venturing through a new city while it is raining is a very frustrating exercise due to the fact that knowing where you are requires you to observe your surroundings. This is something that is very difficult to do if you’re trying to duck and weave around rain drops at the same time. This was just the case when I arrived at the former Harland & Wolf shipyard, otherwise known as the Titanic Quarter in Belfast. 

Upon arrival, shaking the rain off like a wet dog and noticing the rather large puddle of water I had created, I was suddenly startled with a cheerful ‘good morning.’ Having moved through the entrance way, I was now aware of the sizable water obstacle I had made right in the doorway of Belfast’s popular ‘Titanic Experience.’ Replying to the ‘good morning’ with a sheepish ‘sorry’ I moved towards the direction of the ticket booths. It was at this point that it struck me how appropriate it seemed to be drenched in rain, visiting a museum about a ship that sunk. It also struck me how empty the place was, this was partially by design and partially by hope.

With my ticket in hand and the clock sitting just before 10am, I made my way through the near deserted foyer. The plan had been to arrive early and thus avoid long lines and lots of slow moving crowds. Adding to this plan was the fact that the school holidays had finished and people had returned to work after the December/January festive season. Pleased with the success of this planning and having paid the entry fee while watching people avoid the water jump I had created, I headed for the escalator with a head full of Titanic excitement. 

I have to admit I fall into the group of people who find the Titanic fascinating. I also have to admit that I agree with James Cameron. I agree that the Titanic is a love story. I’m not sure it’s the epic, romantic disaster tale that James Cameron showed us in 1997, but it is a love story nonetheless. My visit to Belfast showed me that it’s not a romantic story between two people, it’s much more complicated than that. It’s a story of a love affair, about hopes and dreams, death and survival, of passion, of lust, of beauty, greed, wealth, vision and a promise of a golden age yet to come. It’s a tale of love between a ship, the city it was built in, the people that built her and the families that watched it grow into the sky at the Harland & Wolf shipyard. It’s a Belfast love story.

* * *

Speaking of the Titanic, let’s talk about acts of heroism. Let’s talk about John Jacob Astor IV. In the early hours of April 15th, 1912, just after 1:55am on a clear, star light night Astor stood smoking a cigarette. Having just kissed his darling wife and helped her into lifeboat Number 4,  he watched the lifeboat get lowered into the water, having given his own place to two scared and frightened children. You can only imagine what would have been going through his mind as he watched the boat lower without him. Seven days later Astor’s body was found and identified by the initials sewn on the label of his jacket. Found on him was a gold pocket watch which his son Vincent wore for the rest of his life. Some time later, while his wife and unborn child sat in a lifeboat, a survivor claimed to have seen Astor in the water clinging to a raft with supposedly frozen feet. At some point the coldness forced him to release his hold. 

Titanic Belfast – Order Print

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The Octagon Experience

Digesting New Information

It wasn’t until I got off the bus and started for Moray Place that it suddenly hit me. It could have been the Juicy rental car trying to do a u-turn in a very awkward way, it could have been the foot traffic seeming to be walking in the middle of the street or maybe the rather large, bright orange barriers blocking the street but something suddenly reminded me that the Octagon was closed for traffic. This information wasn’t altogether a surprise yet nor had it been at the forefront of my mind. To digest this not quite new information, I knew I would need alcohol, so I headed to the nearest bar. Once inside, I took up a seat where I could view the street from and began pondering what it all meant.

I couldn’t help but think that the Octagon closure might well be doomed before it began. After all, Dunedin doesn’t take to kindly to change. There’s a good list of ‘resistant to change’ examples hidden in Dunedin’s past. Going back to the 1850’s there were squabbles over matters between the Dunedin City Council and the Caversham Borough Council. In more modern times the new urban cycleways project has received much criticism over the last 5 years as did the newly created central bus hub. Not to forget the heated debate between Carisbrook and Forsyth Barr Stadium which seemed to deeply divide the city. 

Watching people happily walk up and down Stuart Street I decided that I needed to find out more about this ‘Octagon Experience’ so I pulled out my phone and headed straight to the Otago Chamber of Commerce website. I discovered ‘The Octagon Experience’ is the brainchild of the Dunedin City Council who want to create/transform the area into a public space within the streetscape of surrounding business by making it pedestrian-friendly and so drawing people together (so they’re closing roads I thought to myself!). Upon further investigation I discovered that the full closure is happening from January 27th till February 16th with partial closures from February 17 until March 23. Maybe it was the beer but it took awhile for the realisation of what this actually meant to sink in. 

Suddenly the impact of these closures hit me and I didn’t know what worried me more. Putting up with all the angry drivers that will inhabit Moray Place, forgetting the Octagon is closed and desperately try to find another route at the last minute, thus blocking traffic at one of the barn-dance intersections. Or, having to scroll past all the angry Facebook and Twitter posts about the chaos that will inevitably fill my streams. Either way, filled with dread and bracing myself, I finished my pint, opened Facebook and headed out the door.

Robbie – Order Print

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