Arrivals and Departures

There’s only one good thing about disappointment in returning to a place: it makes you appreciate what you had.  The Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin (now known as Toitū Otago Settlers Museum) is a case in point. I have to stress, though, that I am only referring to vintage clothes in the Booking Hall.

Excerpt from Middle England to Middle-earth:

The museum itself was housed in Edwardian galleries and the former New Zealand Rail Road Transport Building, with its Art Deco style. The Booking Hall with a marble-tiled floor and walls had the words 'Arrival Platform' over the dark wood double doors at one end and 'Departure Platform' at the other. The hall was virtually empty of furnishings except for a black leather sofa in one corner and – joy of joys — two rails of vintage dresses which two giggling teenage girls were trying on. So that was the idea.


After a short while, the girls left and I had the dresses to myself. I tried on a whole selection from a starchy, high-necked one to a pale pink, silky, full-skirted one that resembled a ball-gown and swirled about me as I danced with Freya. Henry took a real interest in me when I put on a slinky, peach-coloured 1950’s dress with a side-slit in the skirt.


Going back and comparing our experiences though, the conclusion was that it is still a brilliant museum.

This museum has undoubtedly undergone some major (and expensive at $37.5 million) renovation. For a start the museum’s entrance is now the Josephine Foyer, housing this steam locomotive engine which occupies a prime place and you could get up close to it.

Pretty dresses in 2004

Pretty dresses in 2004

In contrast, the display of ladies’ dresses in 2018 was now behind glass and seemed a lot less pretty.

Would you believe it, these are wedding dresses. From 2018 visit.

Would you believe it, these are wedding dresses. From 2018 visit.

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Would you fancy one of these dresses as bridal wear? This is what nineteenth century women in New Zealand would have worn. Sarah Palmer married Samuel Lister in 1872, wearing the grey silk with blue tassels and fringing. In the brown gown, Bridget McCarthy wed John Kerrin – both came from Ireland – in 1875. They were pioneer settlers at Cadrona. 

You could try a small number of outfits on in this area. Freya wore a huge dress with a steel-hooped cage skirt.

It was the Booking Hall though, that made me envious of my former self who tried on some beautiful dresses here. All those years ago, perhaps by some stroke of luck, we had the place to ourselves even though it was the Christmas holidays. I appreciated it at the time, feeling like royalty or as if I was on some Experience Day. Now the space seemed geared towards children. It was a Sunday so the room was busy, noisy and cluttered with tables and sofas with a small selection of outfits on a rail. How ironic that such a room would have been enjoyed by our children more when we visited in 2004.

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