The toga parade that went bad, and the flat name that memorialized it #flatnames

The arrival of students at the beginning of each academic year usually brings a frisson of excitement to the city. At one time  a toga parade was established, as OUSA general manager Stephen Alexander (2009) stated in the Otago Daily Times, “so the community and students could meet and greet each other in a colourful way”. This intersection of town and gown met a sticky, smelly, violent end in early 2009.

The Debacle (2013)

The Debacle (2013)

Wandering down Cumberland Street today, you can clearly see a vividly painted door depicting a student in boxer shorts, seated on a green chair holding a stubbie of beer, and flanked by a bong. In the foreground on the floor sits an unopened pizza box. Above and behind the student’s head hangs a washing line, debecked with y-fronts, a plate, fork and knife. The word Debacle is emblazoned above in what can only be described as a colour and texture reminiscent of fecal matter. It’s the kind of scene some may imagine as a typical student flat. Interestingly, the the story behind the name is quite different.

The OUSA Toga Parade down George Street on the 24th February of that year deteriorated into bedlam which resulted in injury to people and property. The Otago Daily Times (25 February 2009) reported:

As the large mass of students moved into George St, hundreds of eggs, bottles, rubbish, and buckets full of vomit and faeces, were thrown from first-floor verandas and alleyways, as well as at shop frontages.”

A number of students were disciplined for their involvement. OUSA’s decision to cease future parades was greeted with approval by many people, including retailers and Dunedin police emergency response commander Inspector Alastair Dickie, who said, “after the shamozzle of this year’s parade, we don’t want a repeat …”. An independent report of the event had been undertaken by the former University Proctor, Ron Chambers.

The end of the day saw some students involved in cleaning up shop frontages, and the end year saw donations from students to the City Council which was passed to Keep Dunedin Beautiful. Mayor Peter Chin was reported as saying, “I think it is an appropriate gesture of appeasement in terms of all the issues that have arisen.”

The Debacle (2010)

The Debacle (2010)

The event caused deep shock and consternation amongst the public, officials, the University, and naturally amongst some first year students who participated in the parade. The newly appointed Critic editor for 2009, Amy Joseph, let rip in an ODT opinion piece, declaring in no uncertain terms that the behaviour exhibited at the toga parade was not the “Otago way”, and that there should be no plan for reprisals.

Please listen up and listen well, freshers: this disgusting display is not tradition here at Otago. The eggs, yes, and the flour bombs, sure. But before you start cultivating your own rancid buckets o’ crap for next year’s batch, remember this: those idiot bystanders were trying to hurt you.”

Dunedin City Councillor Dave Cull  and Otago University Students Association president Edwin Darlow were interviewed by Mark Sainsbury the following day on new programme, Close Up, and the shock of the event is clearly still with them.

Teige O’Sullivan and Ben Thomson were first years in 2009 and experienced the parade first hand, on the Dunedin Flat Names Facebook page, Ben said, “[We] got pelted with eggs, fruit, human feces and everything in between.” An other first year student commented in the Otago Daily Times,”As one of those first year students who was a participant in this event I was appalled by how violent this annual event was. … During this event I felt like I was being herded like cattle while the other students hurled bottles and things at us.”

In 2010 Teige and Ben took on the lease of  Cumberland Street flat with 7 other male students. They renamed it The Debacle, as Teige said, “… to represent the 9 boys that now live in it and the activities which take place within the flat. [The] name originated from this video from a[n] American news report on the toga parades last year.”

About 5 seconds in to the video you can clearly hear the reporter, Ed Donahue (Associated Press), describe the parade as a debacle.

Video source: The Associated Press (25.02.2009).

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