The History of Hyde

The History of Hyde

25 years ago, it was a couple of mates doing a keg race. Today, the Hyde Street Party is one of the most iconic days of the year.

Like fish to water, thousands of costumed students flock to the little street each year to sink piss under the open sky, accompanied by sausage sizzles and the comforting drone of DnB. OUSA makes no profit from running the event, which would've been shut down years ago without their oversight. The $60 tickets are always in high demand, and the idea of not being able to attend triggers a FOMO too unbearable to fathom. So how did the Hyde St Party become what it is today? 

One summer's day in early 1997, the four residents of No. 12 Hyde St decided it was time to get to know their neighbours. In true Dunedin fashion, they saw no better way to invoke a sense of community than to turn the street’s favourite hobby into a friendly competition: a keg race. Facebook events and other such wonders were yet to be discovered, so flyers were crafted and placed in letterboxes, and RVSPs were sent. Each got a keg, dressed to a theme and met at the Flying Squid fish ’n chip shop. Then, at the sound of the shooter, everyone raced off to their flats to sink their kegs. Major Majors and Byron Bays were a thing of the future, beer was the drink of choice, and Scrumpy was a sip of luxury. While most decided to take it slow and use this opportunity to build the street’s “community vibe”, one particularly enthusiastic boys’ flat dressed in their rugby gear took up the challenge whole-heartedly, completing their keg in half an hour. Their costumed legacy lives on.

The party stretched from midday into the night, passing through flats all down the street. A mattress was burned, beer bongs were sunk and vomit sprayed - all in the name of community spirit. The police were wildly aroused by the festivities and went to investigate the following morning. Cops knocked on every door on Hyde, wanting to know who was responsible for the debauchery. But no-one narked, and the Hyde community was forever bonded by a mutual distaste for authority and a long-lasting love for kegs. And with that, the Hyde Street Party was born.

For the next two decades, Hyde shone as a beacon of Dunedin culture, where the students of North D could run free in their natural habitat. Described by the media as “infamous” and “chaos-prone”, the Hyde party has come a long way. Its notoriety has burgeoned over the years with its hefty contribution to Dunedin’s binge-drinking culture, with some years being shut down early due to injuries or, in 2012, a roof collapse. Following the incident, city stakeholders approached OUSA and said they wouldn’t allow the Hyde St Party to happen unless OUSA came on and managed the safety of the event. “It was so overcrowded that emergency services couldn’t even get down the street to get to those people who’d gotten hurt,” says Jason Schroeder, General Manager of Events and Festival Director at OUSA. So OUSA took control of the party, which now operates on a ticket-only basis through a lottery system.

Students have mixed feelings about the lottery system, with attendee Will calling it “bullshit”, and ex-Hyde resident Luke calling it “so fucking stupid”. Another student was quick to criticise, but didn’t want their name on the quote: “Castle Street has a million parties with hundreds of attendees and there never seems to be any safety concerns around that, so why all the fuss for Hyde?” Other students see the benefit, though; particularly residents who want to keep their street from descending into unbridled anarchy. Current Hyde resident Caitlin says, “It’s good to cap the number of sales” because of how “hectic” the day is.

Jason says that the idea for ticketing was “the easiest way” to manage the safety of the event, and points out that although students today might not love it, the system “was also the request of residents at the time.” When OUSA first took over Hyde there was no lottery, just normal ticket sales. However, the high level of interest meant there were 11,000 clicks on the site per minute, causing the site to crash. “It also gives us more control… We’re able to make sure we’re not selling tickets to non-students, and it means students can register as a group.” Jason is adamant that the lottery system is “completely randomised”, and that the only “gatekeeping” that occurs is making sure that everyone going is a student.

Hyde residents graciously open up their flats to the drunken masses and enjoy the day, but would like to see some things run a bit differently. “It was really fun and brought the street together,” says Luke, “but I think the support for the residents was ridiculously shit as my flat got trashed and so did others.” Residents are also unhappy that they have to pay $20 for tickets. “I should not have to pay as a resident,” says Caitlin. Luke reckons “we should have got that shit for free. We opened our house to everyone to have a mean time, but OUSA funded fuck all in terms of tickets for residents.” Again, without OUSA, this event wouldn’t happen at all. The Agnew Street party, for example, would cost residents about $200,000 to operate safely, which is part of the reason why it hasn’t been held for several years. Hyde only works because OUSA has found a way to ensure the city that they’ll keep it safe and get it cleaned up by the next morning.

Jason attributes the ticketing of residents to the “hard costs” involved in the organisation of the day: “If the residents didn’t pay, we would have to put up ticket prices for everyone. We put security into their properties and protect their backyards. There’s tangible benefits.” Luke reckons that on the day, though, “security basically let anyone and their dog” into their flat.

Some students are also confused why non-resident tickets cost $60. “I’d love to know what all the money goes to. $60 for tickets is steep,” says Tom, another ex-resident. But for everyone wondering why you have to pay $60 to drink on the street, here are all those “hard costs” OUSA has to pay in order to make the day run smoothly:

  • Hiring security guards (roughly 80 of them)
  • Employing staff to organise it
  • Contracting a traffic management supplier to get consent to shut down the street
  • Changing bus routes for the day
  • Hiring a street sweeper for the cleanup
  • Organising rubbish skips
  • Hiring fencing, portaloos, event signage, marquees, and other infrastructure
  • Bringing on St John’s, Are You Ok? and Red Frogs

“We are not making profit,” said Jason. According to him, OUSA makes enough money to cover risk, liability insurance, and manage the impact it has on general business and staffing, but that’s it. “We aim to come out even, but there needs to be a buffer to be able to cover excessive damages and insurance claims.” He says the organisation of it is “akin to running a small- to medium-sized music festival… but the amount of infrastructure that we have to put in is way bigger than, say, Baseline. That’s why tickets are so expensive.”

Despite their criticisms, students appreciate that there are mechanisms in place to maintain standards of safety. Drug checking by KnowYourStuff, for example, was brought in by OUSA. This year, according to OUSA, their tests confirmed that of the 87 samples that were tested, there were no “untoward” substances found (no bath salts!). Nellie*, an attendee this year, was stoked to hear this because “it was a bit more druggy this year than other years… way more people on gear and people weren't drinking as much.”

“It’s probably better that OUSA has taken it over to be honest,” says Luke. I mean we probably could have had more of a rager if they weren’t involved but sacrificing some shit like sitting on the roof for [OUSA’s resources] is worth it.” Tom says that OUSA are “usually good cunts about it”, and residents are happy to leave all the admin of organising a street party up to OUSA. “OUSA are great,” says Caitlin. “They do so much with the organising.” Sophie, an international student, says that the idea of a student union organising such a notorious street party would be “out of the question” back in the United States. “That would never, ever happen. When I heard about [Hyde] I was so surprised… it would get shut down so fast back home.”

OUSA took on the events admin because they recognize how much it means to students; “It’s an important part of the student experience,” says Jason. “There’s been a lot of historical parts of student experience that have disappeared, including student bars. We know the importance of Hyde Street.” Tom thinks that the party is “slowly being phased out… there’s less guest tickets per resident and increasing fees.” But Jason says OUSA will keep putting it on “as long as the residents want us to continue doing it.”

This year, 3800 students attended Hyde. Melissa, one of the original founders of the Hyde St Party, can’t understand how it has become what it is today. When they created it they were “just having fun” and, before the party, Hyde was just a quiet little street that no one really knew about. Now it’s a centrepiece of Dunedin student culture. The founding flatmates still remain friends and want to come back for a reunion one year to see their baby all grown up.

The evolution of the Hyde St Party speaks to the strength of Dunedin culture; its long-lasting effect on Dunedin shows the persistence of the students’ primal party instinct. “Everyone kind of realised it was for a good time,” says Melissa. “Dunedin still has the same vibe as it did back then, and I think it always will.” Although the party culture may have evolved with the introduction of Facebook pages, fancy RTDs, and OUSA involvement, one thing will always remain: we love a good street party (even if we wish it were free).

This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2023.
Posted 1:51pm Sunday 7th May 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.