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Aerial view of the main campus and surroundings in 1955, photographed by Bill Wilkinson. Image courtesy of Melville and Nancy Carr.

Aerial view of the main campus and surroundings in 1955, photographed by Bill Wilkinson. Image courtesy of Melville and Nancy Carr.

Perhaps nothing demonstrates more visibly the growth of student numbers through Otago’s history than the expansion of its campuses. Various aerial views of the central campus show how remarkably the university and its surroundings have changed. This wonderful image was photographed in 1955 by Bill Wilkinson, a dental student who belonged to the Air Training Corps.

In 1955 there were just over 2000 students at Otago, 850 of them studying medicine and dentistry, whose buildings are not visible in this photograph. There were also 500 or so students at Dunedin Teachers’ College, then a separate institution from the university. The Teachers’ College buildings are visible at the top right of the photo, on the corner of Union St and Anzac Ave. Though the buildings, which opened in 1939, appear substantial, they were destroyed in a major fire in 1968.

In the late 1950s, soon after this photo was taken, student numbers began to increase rapidly and by 1966 had doubled to 4000. In 1972 the 6000 landmark was reached. To cater for this growth the university needed more buildings, and some major construction projects took place in the 1960s. At one point the university authorities debated which direction the campus should expand in – should it be towards Logan Park, or towards the central city? Both had advantages, but eventually the construction of Otago Polytechnic to the east of the university campus put paid to any great expansion in that direction. Instead, the largest building projects of this era moved the university closer to the Medical School.

The most dramatic change to the streetscape was the removal of the housing in the block bordered by Union, Cumberland, St David and Castle streets (opposite the clocktower), to make way for the five large science buildings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. As this photograph reveals, that block was packed with housing, including some tenement dwellings which were little better than slums. Many houses could only be reached via small lanes.

Some grander buildings also made way for the university expansion. The large house second on the right from St Margaret’s College (in the block behind the clocktower) was ‘Appin’, originally built in the 1880s for Captain Angus Cameron, Chief Marine Superintendent of the Union Steam Ship Company. The university took over the house around 1949 and at the time of this photo it was home to the Department of English. You can read more about Appin’s history in David Murray’s excellent blog, Built in Dunedin. It was demolished, along with the neighbouring houses, to clear space for Unicol, which opened in 1969 as the university’s centenary project.

Other major buildings opened in the 1960s were to the right of the area in this photograph: the University Union, Walsh Building (Dental School), Arts Building and University Library. Again, numerous houses made way for this expansion and the library (since demolished to make way for the current Information Services Building) had to be designed around one old dwelling whose owner refused to sell.

One further noticeable change to this area since 1955 is the closure of some roads to traffic. As you wander past the Staff Club, you might like to recall that it was once on a busy intersection. Parts of Union and Castle streets were later made pedestrian only, enabling the landscaping which helps make the campus so attractive today. The Staff Club was, at the time of this photograph, the Registry; it was originally built as the Dental School, and was later home to the Law Faculty before becoming the Staff Club in 1980.

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