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February 27, 2012 | by  | in News |
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Castle Street Burns

Funeral pyres for furniture littered Dunedin streets as Otago’s student population returned after the summer break.

Despite organised events offering ample opportunity for students to orientate themselves with their blood alcohol limit, revellers took to the streets to let loose before lectures on Monday. To the surprise of few, celebrations quickly deteriorated into the regional hobby of setting fire to assorted furnishings.

About 400 students watched on as bottles were thrown at firefighters dousing couch fires, violent behaviour which saw six students arrested.

“Unfortunately, a group of people thought it was a great idea to pick the fireworks up and shoot them at people,” Dunedin police Sergeant Chris McLellan says. “…if ordinary members [of the public] went up there and saw that, they would be disgusted.”

McLellan notes that it was the actions of a few that had brought down the tone of the evening.

He praises the “well-controlled” organisation of an earlier Orientation event that night, which set a world record for the largest toga party as 2500 students donned bed sheets and indulged in alcopop-drenched debauchery.

Otago University Vice-Chancellor Harlene Hayne says that though unruly students were being dealt with under the University’s code of conduct, there was no simple answer to alcohol-related disorder, as it was a nationwide issue.

“This problem will stop as soon as it is no longer cool to behave like this,” Hayne says.

Otago University Students’ Association President Logan Edgar agrees with her sentiment, expressing disappointment that such undesirable events took place after all the planning that went into a safe, responsible Orientation.

“There’s just this misperception that sort of behaviour is acceptable and normal in Dunedin. There needs to be work done to change that perception that that’s what you come here to do,” Edgar says.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull is calling for a permanent liquor ban, already in place within the central city, to be extended to student areas in order to make it safer for young people. Such suggestions are indicative of an ongoing tension between students and other Dunedin residents in which the rift between the two seems only to be deepening.

Speaking on Radio New Zealand, Cull said he didn’t ”want to be in a situation in a year’s time where people say, when someone dies or gets badly injured, why didn’t you do something?”

The suggestion has not received a warm welcome, with an OUSA petition opposing the mayor’s proposal already attracting more than 2000 signatures.

Though the University is yet to decide whether it would support the move, Vice-Chancellor Hayes has proven she is prepared to take a hands-on-approach to the issue, both attending events to remove alcohol and warning students of the consequences of drunken and disorderly behaviour.

However, Otago’s reputation as a party town is a drawcard for some Vic students, especially given this year’s somewhat lacklustre Orientation programme.

“The atmosphere here is way better than Vic’s” says a second-year student, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of sounding “like a fucking alcoholic.”

“I’m a bit rowdy, so I decided to come down here because last year’s Vic O-week was a bit lame.”

She says the organised events were also a worthy contribution to the week’s festivities.

“Even the stuff that the students’ association runs, like the gigs and stuff, are pretty amazing. They’ve got stuff happening every night.”

She complained that there was only one major event at Victoria’s Orientation and that other options were quite limited. Despite this, she intends to return to Victoria to finish her studies. Though she was tempted to transfer, like some of her friends had, she cited a better quality education as a major factor in her decision not to.

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