April 26 2022
Greetings all and welcome to my first "Darkest Dunedin" newsletter. Thanks for following the "Darkest Dunedin". It means a lot that you find my content interesting and worthy of your inbox. Be prepared for more than cemetery content. I love exploring abandoned buildings and I've found a few over the years.
I guess I should begin with a few words about how I got to this place. I was brought up in a tramping and camping family and was introduced to the hills of Dunedin and Central Otago quite literally before I could walk. My mother would carry the youngest in her backpack if necessary. While quite young, abandoned places began to fascinate me. A highlight of a holiday at the family place at Lake Hawea - if we could persuade our parents to take us - was the gold mining area of Bendigo in the upper Clutha Valley.
It's been only a few years ago that I realised I could find and tell stories online. One of the gravestones in the Southern Cemetery has the words "who were brutally murdered" with the names of the people buried there. I had to find out what the story was that had inspired those words. Searching online led me to the amazing resource that is "Papers Past" - for those who don't know what it is, it's a searchable database of literally millions of newspaper and other stories from New Zealand publications from 1839 to 1971.
A friend of mine was already publishing a blog of her adventures, exploring local and not-so-local places and I asked her how difficult it was, technically. She encouraged me to try and learn while doing, which I did, publishing my first blog story in August, 2017. Since that first one, I've published about 950 more. I've found murderers and murdered, victims of all kinds of accidents, back-street abortionists - plus the great and the good.
And soldiers. Many inscriptions in New Zealand cemeteries commemorate men and women who are buried on the other side of the world. Their deaths were unseen tragedies for their families back home. Many were not from enemy action - the number of young men who died of tuberculosis contracted in the trenches and troopships of World War One is staggering. Towards the end of 2017, I realised that I had a unique opportunity to publish soldiers' stories on the centenaries of their deaths. There were a lot of 1918 dates in the photos I had taken in Otago cemeteries by that time.
In more recent years I joined the "Heritage Matters" broadcast team, making history stories to be broadcast and podcasted by Otago Access Radio - one of the team had taught me in primary school and (heaven knows why) remembered me from then. They encouraged me in a new form of storytelling. I also joined the Southern Heritage Trust, thinking in a way that if I "talked the talk" of wanting to preserve local history it was time to take it a little more seriously.
I also began to perform very occasional tours of my local cemetery, the Southern, for friends. Three hours of stories were too long but the mix there of Otago colony leaders, victims of spectacular Dunedin disasters and participants in globally significant historical events does make for a lot of stories.
Last November's Heritage Festival saw me crafting tours of the Southern and Northern cemeteries. Numbers were limited due to covid restrictions and that worked well when it came to the time lag produced by waiting for the last people to arrive within earshot at the next place of interest.
Later I took a similar tour in the Southern for a local homeschooling organisation. For them, I developed a tour of Andersons Bay Cemetery, with a view to develop it further and offer it as a tourism offering. But how to promote it? I asked the group member I'd liaised with for the tour if she knew someone who might be able to make a deal with me for the online promotion of cemetery (and other) tours. As it turned out, she did.
The force of nature which is my friend and promoter Lolene has made the impossible possible as far as "Tales from Darkest Dunedin" is concerned. She has worked with me for the planning and promotion of a range of tours - not all in cemeteries - which will soon be scheduled offerings as well as ones that can be booked by arrangement.
Anzac Day Tour
Yesterday's tour of some of the soldiers' graves at Andersons Bay Cemetery was a great experience. The tour I presented is one of those which will be regularly on offer but to do it on Anzac Day itself was something special. Thanks for those who came along - I'd love to hear suggestions of what could be done better as well as some idea of what worked well. I intend to make Anzac Day tours with proceeds to the RSA an annual event.
My next will be a tour of the Northern Cemetery on May 7 at 1 pm. The Northern is notable for two inhabitants - William Larnach and Thomas Bracken, but that's not all. A self-taught clockmaker whose 1860 clock is still ticking and has never needed winding. Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first female medical graduate. Three murderers were exhumed and shifted when Dunedin's Law Courts were built. And, as they say, much more. As promised, you’re the first to hear about it being a subscriber:
Humanitix uses the booking fee to provide for charities so I’m really happy to use this service for my tours. Any issues though, please email me.
As we head into winter and with covid still a factor I'm planning to begin scheduled tours on the first Saturday of each month. Each tour will be different from the previous, until I have hosted all of those I have compiled, then again from the start. I'm still finding stories in local cemeteries (I found the inventor of the removable and replaceable lid for metal containers such as paint tins just today - not a history-changing thing like the steam engine but if he'd received just a tiny amount for each one made he'd have been very rich. Unfortunately, he didn't.
Also, keep an eye out for my upcoming autobiography "Mansplaining For Money" - hitting the bookshops in about 15 years.
Thanks for reading, Gregor.