by Insiders Dunedin

Even a blind woman can see inspiring and recently I had an opportunity to see around one of Dunedin’s most inspirational spaces – Olveston. Built in 1906, this home to English trader David Theomin who lived here with his wife Marie and children Edward and Dorothy, is, without a doubt,  one of Dunedin’s finest homesteads! After Marie, Edward and then David all died, Dorthy was left to take care of the homestead until her own death in 1966. (the year I was born by the way)  That’s not the end of the story though. With no children, nieces or nephews to leave the home to; She generously gifted the house to the city of Dunedin. Today Olveston is the proud host to 60,000 visitors a year.

Ron and I were lucky enough to have a personalised tour with guide Jenny Longstaff who is not just a guide, but also an artist. What use is that to a blind woman I hear you ask? Ironically it’s extremely useful because as I know from having an artist husband, Jenny was able to describe in great detail what she saw and gave me a descriptive verbal commentary of objects, paintings and china that blessed the Theomin household. From Goldie’s kuia with the smoke hanging from her mouth to the bust David had made for Marie on their 25th wedding anniversary, no stone was left unturned by Jenny.  But it was way more than a single sense, verbal commentary.

Here’s my sensory diary for the visit:

Smell: the library with it’s distinct aroma of leather bound books and the hint of aged cigar smoke. I could see David sitting in here in the evenings taking time out from his busy empire.


Hear: the sound of the gong as I banged it with my hand! “We’re not allowed to hit it” whispered Jenny at which point I called out to the rest of the household “grubs up!”

Taste: I could taste the roast lamb that would have lived on those big, silver, oval platters that housed the meat for their dinner parties!

Touch: the wooden napkin press, the cookie dough cutter, the carved wooden Swiss bear, the huge wooden perimeter of the billiard table, the Japanese lacquered serving tray with it’s raised petal flowers, the metal bed warmer, the single brass bed heads, the massive wooden main front door , the extensive circumference of the kitchen table and yes at the other extreme the teeny weeny fig leaf on the male statue in the vestibule.       


All of this felt with fingers through a pair of gloves Jenny provided me with in order not to grease the household treasures. But really, do you know what I think the real reason she made me wear those gloves? Because at the same time I was receiving information about the objects I was touching – I was also doing Olveston’s dusting! Just imagine if you had a whole tour of blind people in there wearing their white gloves Jenny?  We’d get that place looking spick and span in no time!


Special thanks to Jeremy Smith for making the tour happen!

You can find Jeremy and the Olveston team at Olveston itself, 42 Royal Terrace, Dunedin

Phone them on +64 3 477 3320  

Email them at olveston@xtra.co.nz

Find them, including going on a virtual tour, at www.olveston.co.nz

From my world to yours



Post Submitted by Julie Woods


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