Old Haunts Become New Hangouts – Dunedin’s Exchange

Princes Street DunedinThese days I catch my bus home from work outside what I still think of as the old Chief Post Office. It’s a long long time since it was a post office. But it was. Now that I remember, one of my first jobs was a summer holiday job in the mail room, behind the very busy mail posting slots. The CPO is now the Distinction Hotel. The restaurant blows some tempting smells out into Princes Street which is a bit cruel late in the day. 

Across Princes Street is the former National Insurance Building, from the days when many companies were still headquartered in Dunedin. It was very modern in its day, with a four-sided digital clock/thermometer on the top. I started my office career on the third floor of the National Insurance Building in the Valuation Department. I began there on some sort of 1970s work scheme (PEP?) with a big desk and a big pile of valuation plans to convert to metric. They were so impressed with my happiness with such a boring job that they offered me a full-time position, as a Roll Clerk. 

National Insurance Building Princes Street

National Insurance Building Princes Street on the left, reflecting the Distinction Hotel. The office I worked in was on the 3rd floor.

I loved the challenge of reconciling the legal descriptions and land parcels; across the road searching land titles at Lands and Deeds in John Wickliffe House and Lands and Survey Department (now Department of Conservation). One of the seniors had her desk immediately in front of mine where she chain-smoked all day. She seemed to be saving on matches because she always lit the next smoke before her current one was finished. Often she had two on the go at once. It seems hard to imagine now.

Former Cook Allan Gibson offices in Princes Street Dunedin

Cook Allan Gibson former offices in the centre, on Princes street, with the Scenic Circle Southern Cross Hotel across High Street on the right. The cake shop was in front of the red car (I think)

Just along the street was the ‘new’ office block on the corner of High Street which Cook Allan Solicitors gradually took over. Mum and Dad were clients and with their motel business there were lots of meeting over the years, and I got involved in the 1980s and hung spent many an hour there one way and another. In the 1970s there was a cake shop on the street level where I went every morning for my iced bun for morning tea. 

Dunedin’s Exchange area was once the hub of the city. Every government department has offices within a stones throw, and there were lots of head offices nearby. The Exchange was the Stock Exchange with lots of banks and brokers around and about. The tide went out in the 1980s, and the area went into decline. Now the old buildings are being re-purposed, both around the exchange and a couple of streets over in the Vogel Street area. Coincidentally Cook Allan Gibson solicitors have moved to a converted warehouse in Vogel Street. Very industrial-modern. 

It’s wonderful to see the transformation. There’s not a cake shop yet, but there are lots of nice cafes. The Exchange area has gone in circle. I guess my life has too, catching my bus home from my current job at the same place I had two of my first jobs.

Princes Street Dunedin

Princes Street Dunedin in the Exchange area. Former Cook Allan Gibson office on the left, then across High Street the Southern Cross Hotel including the newer building which once housed State Insurance. Taken from my bus stop outside the Distinction Hotel which was once the Dunedin Chief Post Office. Just along the street is John Wickliffe House where the Lands and Deeds office was. The old ornate white two-storey building further up Princes Street on the right was where my grandfather had his dental surgery rooms on the first floor.


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5 Responses to Old Haunts Become New Hangouts – Dunedin’s Exchange

  1. gay dornbusch says:

    How things have changed over the years. Imagine chain smoking like that with the cost they are now. You are lucky to have so many heritage buildings left. Marton is getting fewer and fewer

  2. cliff mundell says:

    They say it’s a small world…Safe to say we could have a connection here. I was also in that office (govt valuation) on the second floor 1970-75 (before moving to Invercargill then Wellington) The land titles were still in the old chief post office directly opposite.. I’m sure I can guess who was ‘the smoker.’. a woman near retirement… we used to joke that her ash tray smoked more than she did herself… she had a habit of lighting up and putting down after maybe only two puffs then turn her attention to something else… I don’t know how many she lit up in a day and how many she actually consumed.. Periodically we would need to check things against land titles, over the road in the chief post office building.. A chance to go out in the fresh air…. Crossing Princess St in winter was a bit parky but that it didn’t matter…)

  3. cliff mundell says:

    Forgive me if this coming across a second time… I made a response that appears to have gone nowhere… So, if it was lost… Briefly, my name is Cliff Mundell. I worked in the same office and well remember converting plans over to metric, searching land titles (in the chief post office in my time) and remember the smoker, as so many were at one time. I transferred to Invercargill mid ’75 then subsequently Wellington

    • Ross says:

      Hello Cliff. sorry, I was a bit slow seeing your first comment. What a blast from the past! I reckon I worked in the Valuation Department from the beginning of August 1975 to December 1976. So we mightn’t have quite crossed paths although your name seems familiar. I wonder if I was taken on after you left? I do remember visits to the Chief Post Office building as I liked to use the stairs. Was there a separate Lands & Survey from Lands & Deeds? I still see John around town occasionally. I took leave-without-pay in December 1976 for a year and then there wasn’t a vacancy in the Valuation Department so ended up in the Ministry of Transport. I eventually made it to Wellington too, in 1979, to the State Services Commission office where my Public Service career concluded in 1980. Thanks for sharing your recollections.

  4. cliff mundell says:

    Hi Good to hear from you. Looks we just missed each other. My last day in Dunedin was 4th July, 1975.. It is probable you came in to take my place…There was a separate Lands and Survey and Lands and Deeds.. Lands and Deeds were part of the Justice Dept ( if I recall correctly)… both departments were in the Chief Post Office building… Valuation had been also till early 1970… it was still settling in to National Ins when I started… so some of my initial work was unpacking and the like rather than behind the desk.. I did call into the office mid 1976 and say hi while on transfer to Wn… I saw John a number of years ago… valuation had moved to just the north side of the Octagon… If you see John please say hi.. and that every now and again I come across Noel Foote who was in John’s role ahead of him….

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