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From “Toad Hall” to “Shrieking Shack”: new book celebrates flat names

Wednesday 27 February 2019 12:09pm

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Authors Sarah Gallagher (left) and Ian Chapman with their new book Scarfie Flats of Dunedin, launched at the Staff Club last week. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

A book celebrating the stories behind the clever, amusing, and yes, sometimes irreverent names given to Dunedin’s student flats – as well as their place in the history of the city – was launched at the Staff Club last week.

Scarfie Flats of Dunedin, a collaboration between the Head of Otago’s Performing Arts Programme Ian Chapman and former Division of Health Sciences Social Media Adviser Sarah Gallagher, highlights and preserves the rich range of names and signs created over the years – dating right back to the early 1930s.

In the pages of Scarfie Flats of Dunedin, the pair share some of the stories of these flats, how they got their names, who lived in them, and what life was like there. The book also features essays by “Otagoites” about the place of these flats in popular culture, music and street art, as well as such erudite subjects as what it's really like to live on Hyde Street.

"So a big part of our motivation was to capture a wonderful and unique slice of Dunedin and Otago University history. I think we did that."

Mrs Gallagher has been researching scarfie flats named since 2000 and is the brains behind the Dunedin Flat Names Project, while Dr Chapman has published numerous books including The Dunedin Sound.

Mrs Gallagher told the 100 or so guests at the launch that the book began as a collection of photos of signs.

“And it continues to be that, but I found by sharing them, people connected with them, and stories began to emerge,” she said. “It’s been such a wonderful privilege to research people’s stories, and include your voices, it’s made this a much deeper, richer book than I imagined. I’ve loved seeing people’s eye mist over as they transport themselves back to their student days when retelling their stories - or when they’ve told me they’ve reconnected with old flatmates.”

Dr Chapman told the audience he had been quietly fascinated by the names of Dunedin flats since he moved to Dunedin to study as an adult student in 1990.

“Already 30 years old at the time, I actually didn’t live in a student flat, although I visited plenty. Nevertheless, while I never lived in the kinds of flats that fill our book, for almost three decades now I’ve walked, cycled and driven past them and, frankly, grown very attached to them and, more importantly, to the idea/ethos behind them.”

Dr Chapman told the audience that the “nature and experience of being a Scarfie in Dunedin is changing”.

“So a big part of our motivation was to capture a wonderful and unique slice of Dunedin and Otago University history. I think we did that.”

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Ian Chapman speaks at last week's launch.