Like the Department of Psychology, Otago’s Department of Anthropology is a child of the 1960s. And like psychology, it produced some talented early graduates who went on to distinguished careers, including as professors at Otago. It also resembles psychology in having a long prehistory at Otago as a minor subject: indeed, Otago was the first university in Australasia to employ an anthropologist. Harry Skinner was appointed in 1918 as assistant curator at the Otago Museum (then run by the university) and lecturer in ethnology; soon afterwards he also took charge of the Hocken Library. A dedicated fossicker from childhood, he had graduated from Otago in zoology in 1913. After distinguished war service at Gallipoli, he was invalided out of the army and stayed on in England to study anthropology at Cambridge. In 1919 Otago offered its first teaching in anthropology as an extension course to anybody interested. Skinner gave the classes in ethnology, while other university staff gave lectures in their areas of interest: Dunlop, the Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, in cultural anthropology; Benson, Professor of Geology, in geological anthropology; and Benham, Professor of Biology, in anatomical anthropology. In the 1920s anthropology became available as an undergraduate course, with Skinner giving lectures in both physical and cultural anthropology. His heavy workload (he was director of the museum from 1937), and perhaps a lack of student demand, meant that anthropology was only taught at Stage I for four decades. After Skinner retired in 1952, there was a gap of several years before a new lecturer in anthropology was appointed, though the course was offered some years with the assistance of a visiting lecturer. Peter Gathercole, another Cambridge graduate, became the new anthropology lecturer in 1958 and revived the Stage I course. Two years later he founded the Otago Anthropological Society, which arranged local archaeological excavations and promoted much local interest. Demand for more advanced courses in anthropology at the university grew rapidly, and Gathercole successfully campaigned for more staff so a full degree programme could be offered. In 1963 John Harré and Les Groube joined the staff and the department really got off the ground: students enrolling for anthropology that year could, for the first time, major in the subject. The department had a name change to the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology in 2011, giving better recognition to archaeology, which has always been one of its strongest fields of research (for a decade or so prior to that it had incorporated other social science disciplines as the Department of Anthropology, Gender and Sociology, but they then became part of the new Department of Sociology, Gender and Social Work). From the beginning, the Department of Anthropology developed courses in both cultural anthropology and archaeology, together with biological anthropology, though teaching of the latter was eventually taken over by the Department of Anatomy. After further campaigning the first Professor of Anthropology, Charles Higham, was appointed in 1968; he had arrived in 1967 as a lecturer and remains a research professor in the department to this day. The subject quickly proved popular and by 1970 it had one of the largest first-year courses in the Faculty of Arts, with over 200 students; there were also already 12 MA students and 5 people working on an anthropology PhD. Among the first year anthropology students in 1963 was Helen Keedwell (later Helen Leach), who developed an interest in archaeology as a schoolgirl and became a founding member of the Anthropological Society. She remembers the first anthropology majors as a highly motivated group, passionate about the subject and very supportive, though also competitive! They persuaded the department to offer postgraduate courses immediately after they graduated so they could continue their studies at Otago, rather than having to move to Auckland (which had established a full anthropology department, complete with professor, around 1950). Helen Leach completed the Otago department’s first MA in 1968 and went on to a distinguished career in archaeology, teaching in the department for many years; she is now an emeritus professor. Several other Otago anthropology MA graduates of the 1960s and 1970s have also had distinguished academic careers, including teaching at Otago: Foss Leach, Ian Frazer and Atholl Anderson. Do you have any memories to share of the early years of the Department of Anthropology, now over fifty years old? Or perhaps you have some stories to share of its prehistory as a one part-time lecturer enterprise – in this guise it will soon reach its centenary!
Ian Chirnside, who is now 106 years old, has a pretty good claim to be Otago’s oldest surviving graduate! Certainly it’s unlikely that there are any earlier university staff members out there, because he started working on campus when he was just 14 years old, in 1922. I recently had the great privilege of meeting Ian. He has an impressive memory and enjoyed chatting about life at Otago in the 1920s and 1930s.
Ian grew up in Dunedin, the sixth in a family of eight children. Like most working class children of that generation, they all left school young to earn a living and help support the household. Ian and one of his brothers tossed a coin to select between two job possibilities. The brother took the foundry job, and Ian’s future was sealed when he became “the boy” – the lowliest technical assistant – at the Dental School. He had a wide range of tasks. There was plenty of cleaning, including scraping the wax off the students’ benches. Other tasks were more exciting: some of the students were frightened of the blow torch used to melt gold for fillings, so Ian dealt with it for them. He also learned to develop photographs. When the School was short of suitable specimens, it used photos for teaching and one of Ian’s tasks was to print a set of copies for each student. He became interested in photography and had his own box brownie camera. This was swept away in the big Leith flood of 1923, when water covered the roads and the Dental School (the building which is now the Staff Club) was left overhanging the river. The dental students clubbed together to buy Ian a replacement camera.
Another of Ian’s duties was to serve as messenger boy for the Dean, H.P. Pickerill: “at the time I thought something of it,” he recalls. Pickerill was a major figure, and not only in dentistry. He was one of the pioneers of plastic surgery during World War I, bringing some of the badly wounded men he treated back to Dunedin after the war for further treatment. But it seems he could also be a little absent-minded, because Ian regularly biked out to the Pickerill home in Ravensbourne to collect something the Dean had forgotten, such as appropriate clothing for a formal dinner at which he was to be guest of honour. One interesting duty he carried out for Pickerill was to turn on and off the wall switch of an electric knife used during surgery!
Ian loved working at the Dental School, finding the students and staff very friendly. When he was promoted his younger brother, Alan Chirnside, became “boy” in his place. The brothers decided they would like to train in dentistry themselves, but as they had no secondary schooling they first had to study to obtain matriculation (entry to university). After work, they would run home to Maori Hill for tea and then run down to the King Edward Technical School night classes, often arriving late. Their determination and hard work paid off in the end, with Alan graduating in dentistry in 1938 and Ian in 1940. Ian has fond memories of his student years, especially of capping. The government, town council and taxi drivers (especially Red Band Taxis) always got “a bit of a rip” from the students. One year he drove an old-fashioned buggy in the capping procession. He borrowed the buggy from the Oval, one draught horse from his father (who worked with horses) and another from the grocer who lived nextdoor. Ian and another dental student dressed up as “hayseeds” for the occasion. They managed to get caught in the tram rails, which were the same width as the wheels on their buggy. Later they parked outside Arthur Barnett’s store “for the sake of the girls,” putting down a piece of grass turf to try and prevent the horses from wandering off!
After graduating, Ian spent a few years away from the Dental School, including some time spent in military service with the Dental Corps in the Pacific. In 1945 he returned as a lecturer to the place he loved so well, remaining until his retirement in the early 1970s. By that time he had evolved from the junior lackey without any secondary schooling to an associate professor, complete with doctoral degree. He saw many changes over his long career, the most significant technical development being the arrival of the fast-cutting drill. Ian continues to take an interest in the world of dentistry. His eyesight is not too good these days, but his daughter reads him articles about new developments. He is especially intrigued by the use of robotics in teaching!
Exactly 100 years ago, on 7 April 1914, Allen Hall was formally opened as part of Otago’s first student union building. The Governor of New Zealand, Lord Liverpool, arrived on campus to mark the grand occasion, when the new classrooms known as the Oliver Wing (an extension to the clocktower building, now part of the registry) were also opened. In the new assembly hall the Governor commented to a large and appreciative audience that he wished Otago students “the best of luck, frivolity and joy.”
This occasion was the culmination of many years of campaigning and fundraising by both students and staff. Before Allen Hall, students had no suitable place to meet and socialise. The Mayor of Dunedin, future cabinet minister William Downie Stewart, reflected at the opening on his own student days during the 1890s. In the new buildings, he commented, “it would be possible not only for the male under-graduates and the lady under-graduates to have afternoon tea, but they would be able to have it in company. That was an undreamt of luxury in his day, and as a consequence some of them had grown up rather shy.”
The students’ association and Christian Union had been wanting facilities for quite some time, but the campaign gathered momentum around 1908, when Thomas Gilray, Professor of English and Chair of the Professorial Board, took up the cause. “Certainly nothing is more urgently required by us at the present time than a suitable building for the use of students,” he wrote in his 1908 annual report. As the University Council had no funds to spare, the cost of any building would have to come from fundraising and special government grants. Students did what they could to raise money at various carnivals, but Gilray realised they needed to get the local community involved and invited “the ladies of Dunedin” to hold a bazaar. This took place in 1909 and raised an impressive sum – nearly £1200, the equivalent of around $200,000 today. After that, stated Gilray, “it was time for the men of the community to do something.” Various local worthies donated generous sums, led off by the Chancellor, James Allen, who headed a fundraising committee. Allen – whose home Arana later became a residential college – was also an influential parliamentarian, and he persuaded the Prime Minister, Southlander Joseph Ward, to commit the government to a generous subsidy, supplying £2 for every £1 raised. One celebrity donor was the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, who donated the proceeds of a public lecture to the student building fund.
The new bluestone building was designed by Edmund Anscombe to fit with the original university buildings and other additions, including the adjacent School of Mines, also designed by Anscombe. It contained a large assembly hall (named Allen Hall in recognition of the contribution of James Allen to the project and to the university), student executive room, common rooms (one each for men and women), dressing rooms, bathrooms, a “buffet” (canteen) and “other accessories of an up-to-date building.” Allen Hall became a venue for occasions both formal and informal, for meetings, dances and all sorts of “frivolity and joy.” Students also had, finally, a place to relax and grab a bite between classes.
There were just over 600 students at Otago when Allen Hall opened in 1914. As numbers crept up over the next few decades, the student union became increasingly crowded. Students of the 1940s recall being squashed in shoulder to shoulder at dances; the canteen was getting too small and it was difficult to fit everybody in when there was a large meeting. After another long period of planning and fundraising, the current student union building was opened in 1960, when the student roll was 2666. Another floor was added nine years later, with the roll already almost doubled again.
Once the student union had moved out, Allen Hall fell into a period of neglect and was seldom used. It was revived in the 1980s as the centre of the theatre studies programme; long-time staff member Lisa Warrington describes it as “a great testing ground for students” and it has hosted hundreds of plays, including the popular Lunchtime Theatre (held weekly during teaching time). Later this year, in September, theatre studies is holding a reunion – open to anybody with a connection to Allen Hall – to mark the centenary. You can read more about the centenary celebrations and theatre studies in a recent Otago Magazine article.
The Historic Places Trust registered Otago’s first student union as an historic place in 1988. It is significant architecturally, as part of the famous complex of historic buildings at the centre of the university. But it is also much more than that. For nearly fifty years the building was a social centre for the thousands of students that passed through Otago. The “frivolity and joy” wished to Otago students by the Governor one hundred years ago was then expressed in a new way in Allen Hall, through the many stage productions presented there through the theatre studies programme. Happy centenary Allen Hall! Do you have any memories to share of events in this now venerable building?