It’s strange, but the city of Dunedin still doesn’t fully feel like home. Despite having lived here for nearly forty years. Add to that the three years when I trained to become a primary school teacher here, in the early seventies. As well, some months in my first year of marriage before we headed overseas on our OE. And then another two years after we returned back from overseas, and before spending five years in the Hutt Valley.
We returned to Dunedin in the early eighties. It wasn’t something we’d planned on doing – we definitely wanted to return to the South Island; the North Island just didn’t do it for us, all those creek beds festooned with madonna lilies and wild fennel … so foreign! We would have opted for Nelson or Central Otago if we’d had a choice of where to settle in the South Island. But the grey stone city of Dunedin, was where the work was.
All tolled, it’s been a lot of years and time spent here in Dunedin. Most of my life in fact. And I can’t see us moving from here in the future (although, never say never). However, Dunedin still doesn’t feel as if it is fully ‘home’.
I consider Southland as my true home. Orepuki, Western Southland, to be exact. That is my heart’s home. Even though I only spent the first ten years of my life there. But the roots are deep. I whakapapa back to Moitoitoi from Kati Mamoe in Southland. My immigrant great-grandparents (Scottish, English, Irish) on both sides, all settled and lived the rest of their lives in Orepuki. All my grandparents plus my mother and father were both born and bred there.
All good and valid reasons for the place to sing in my blood.
I think about my grandmother on my father’s side, who was born in Dunedin to Irish parents newly-arrived from Derry, Northern Ireland. I think about how she spent the first three years of her life in this city and how she ended up dying here as well. At the Little Sisters of the Poor hospital (as did her husband three or four years later). Dunedin, therefore, book-ended her eighty-some years. However, her bones are buried in Orepuki.
Before her final journey, my Granny’s first journey from Dunedin was when she was three years old. She and her sister having arrived at their new home in pioneer-age Orepuki, snuggled into sacks that hung from the two sides of a horse’s saddle. At one stage of the journey, my grandmother (Livinia) tumbled out when her younger sister (Louise) escaped from her sack, thus upsetting the fine balance.
The fine balance of whether a place is truly home or not, is hard to pinpoint. But whatever it is, it has not registered yet (or ever?) with me as far as Dunedin is concerned. But I can live with that. I make visits back to the place I consider my heart’s home. Pilgrimages. Sentimental journeys. Call them what you will. And that keeps the space that yearns to see my home again, fully tanked up.