Revisiting Nicky’s house

Got a lovely special delivery the other day –

Doesn’t it look fantastic? Yes, but what do Dunedin Scarfie flats have to do with Joanna Preston, Tasmanaut Poet? Quite simply, they’ve included a poem of mine in it: Visit to Nicky’s House.

The story goes back a way. I originally wrote the poem for the anthology Under Flagstaff: an Anthology of Dunedin Poetry, which University of Otago Press brought out back in 2004. While it’s true that I have never lived in Dunedin, my sister-in-law (the eponymous Nicky of the poem’s title) did, and lived in student digs throughout her academic years. She still works at the university, as does her partner. And my in-laws (her parents) were also students in Dunedin, so it could fairly be said that I married into a family with strong roots in Otago University. I have heard mannnny many many stories about scarfie life. And given that I met my own husband while we were both living on campus at university in Sydney (shout out to Goldstein College at UNSW!) it’s not a world with which I was unfamiliar. So having that background, and having very fresh memories of the incident in question (or possibly just having been sufficiently scarred by the event in question for it to still seem fresh) I was able to write the poem, and editors Robin Law and Heather Murray accepted it for the anthology.

Forward to late 2009, and I get an email message from someone who had read the poem, liked it, and wanted to find out what I knew about scarfie flats, and what had prompted the lines in the poem that talk about the fact that their names (and the myths, legends, lies, rumours and very occasional True Histories of said places and names) were passed on from generation to generation. The person in question was Sarah Gallagher, so I answered as best I could, passed her contact details on to my sister-in-law, and more or less forgot about it.

Scroll forward nine years, and Sarah got back in touch to say that the book she’d been working on about the scarfie flats was going to be published, and to ask if they could reprint my poem in it. I said yes, sounds great; we had a bit of back and forth making sure OUP were happy for it to be reprinted, that sort of thing, and then I forgot about it again.

Then in the wee small hours of Tuesday morning (I think … or possibly the day before?) I dimly heard the sound of a courier somewhere near our house, and sure enough, there was a lovely parcel sitting in the mail box. It was big, and heavy, and obviously a book. And I had a wild thought flash across my frontal lobes about what it could be …

It’s a beautiful book. Big, bold, full of pictures and stories and history. Very Dunedin. Go check Sarah’s website (, then race down to your local purveyor of books to get your hands on a copy. Part of the reason this post has taken so long to get published is because I keep dipping into it (the book, not the post), and getting thoroughly absorbed. If you ever had anything to do with Dunedin in your youth, or even if you just feel a faint kinship to, or curiosity about, student life and culture in the Edinburgh of the South … look, just go out and get hold of a copy. It is a glorious beast indeed.

Scarfie Flats of Dunedin
by Sarah Gallagher with Ian Chapman
Published by Imagination Press
Hardcover, 240 pp
ISBN: 9780995110441

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