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Full Circle

Day 151: Dunedin

Dunedin, New Zealand 
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The future and is in their hands. Students at Otago University.
Michael Palin - Full CircleThe name Dunedin (literally 'Edin on the hill') sounds contrived, like a hybrid of Dundee and Edinburgh, which is actually not a bad description of the place. Robbie Burns' statue dominates the main square. This is Scotland in the South Pacific.

At first glance it is a dour, damp, chilly place, its buildings heavy with ponderous Presbyterian civic pride. The travel writer, Paul Theroux, called it 'cold and frugal' and looking out over the steep hills, shiny with last night's rain, I can see why. But beneath a grey and respectable facade there lurks a wild heart. Or so I'm assured by a number of New Zealand friends who attended the city's highly prestigious University of Otago. To find out a little more about this alternative Dunedin I have agreed to join the students of Selwyn College on the ancient and traditional Leith Run. 'Dared to join' is actually more accurate than 'agreed', as the run is part of an initiation ceremony which, I'm warned, is extremely uncomfortable.

When I arrive in the august red-brick quadrangle of the one hundred-and-two-year-old college, freshmen are already dragging each other through a thick, specially prepared bed of mud, on the end of tug-of-war ropes. When they are all satisfactorily filthy they, and I, spill out of the college gates and run up a long wide road of small clap-board villas, which, I assume from the piles of beer cans and wrecked chairs in the garden, are no longer occupied by old ladies. This, nevertheless, is our last glimpse of civilization before we descend into the black, rubble-strewn waters of the River Leith. What has been, up till now, good exercise, becomes a fight for survival. The new students have to run, scramble, slip, swim or somehow make their way down a mile or so of rocky river while being pelted with eggs, flour, mud and anything else those on the bank think might improve their chances of enjoying life at Selwyn College.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 151
  • Country/sea: New Zealand
  • Place: Dunedin
  • Book page no: 209

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