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"Dunedin ..., a wealthy little city where the rich inhabited the hills and looked out to sea and the poor inhabited the flat and looked at each other."
Christine Johnston
Blessed Art Thou Among Women, Reed, 1991, page 21.

The Birth of Modern Times: 1890-1940

Between 1890 and 1940 some 90,000 people lived in Dunedin's southern suburbs. Spreading out over 'The Flat' they occupied distinctive suburban areas including Caversham - New Zealand's oldest and most densely populated working class community.

These fifty years were a critical period in the country's history, a time of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Dunedin led the way as New Zealand's first major industrial centre. 'Modern' ways of organising work and society were pioneered here. The experience of the city's southern suburbs is a microcosm of what was happening across the country.

It was a period of massive change. New technologies transformed the world of work, revolutionised domestic routines and altered the patterns of daily life. Average family size declined, from six children in 1890 to just two by 1940. Secondary education became the norm rather than the privilege of an elite few. The state played an increasing role in shaping society and dealing with the casualties of poverty and ill health. New generations of New Zealand-born adults grew to maturity with higher expectations and different points of comparison to those of their migrant forbears. Theirs was 'The Birth of Modern Times'.

St Clair Gentleman's Residences' View of St Clair Hillside
A contemporary view of the Esplanade at St Clair beach. (Caversham Project Archives) 'Gentleman's Residences' in Ings Avenue St Clair. (Caversham Project Archives) View towards St Clair Beach from Kew heights. (Caversham Project Archives) View over Hillside Workshops. (Caversham Project Archives)



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