Otago Anniverary Day observations

Yesterday was supposedly an official holiday, just one day short of the actual anniversary, today, 23 March. The suburbs were eerily quiet and Dunedin’s CBD exuded a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Our regular lunch cafe was closed, as were many businesses. Only the optimistic donned white shirt and tie but the Dunedin City Council was serious in its Anniversary Day observance  – parking meters were in Sabbath mode – that is to say, not trading. Predictably, and in best Presbyterian response, all street parking spaces were full.

Even the hallowed grounds of First Church, that enduring testament (pun not intended) to the foundation of the Free Church settlement of Otago in 1848, were well patronised with ‘worshippers’ of a sort.  A heavily committed game of ‘touch’ (rugby, that is) between a glorious mix of age, size and gender brought a wry smile to the face of this regular passer-by and, co-incidentally, descendant of Presbyterian early settlers to Otago. One cannot help but wonder quite how the settlement’s spiritual leader, the Reverend Dr Thomas Burns, would have viewed this 2010 observance of Anniversary Day.

At least some of the regular flock was in attendance. More impressively, they were young – at least under 25 from my opposite-side-of- Moray Place perspective.  I’m sure Burns would have nodded in appreciation, before he frowned, first in disbelief then at his own lack of understanding. Not only were these ‘worshippers’ engaged in a form of sport yet to be invented in England, but the people themselves were of Pacific Island descent. For some decades now, this local immigrant group has worshipped in greater numbers at First Church than the descendants of Burns original flock. How ironic, that on 23 March 1849, the settlement’s first anniversary, Thomas Burns railed against the profanity of sport. Such festive celebrations kept all but some 60 pious souls from the service of thanksgiving he called that day.

By Jennie Coleman  23.03.10

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