The persistent throb of bass can be heard from three blocks away; a siren call reaching out to the slumbering residents of North Dunedin, calling them to their most hallowed street. Today is the day of the Hyde Street Party. On the street itself the music pumps like a busy nightclub, but the pavement is bare. The residents have been awake for a couple hours now, starting their mornings with a hearty breakfast, beer pong and a few Irish coffees. It’s going to be a big day. In a few hours this street will be packed end-to-end with costumed revellers, dancing, laughing, and enjoying a cold beverage or 15.
The sun’s rising over Signal Hill, revealing a dreary overcast day. While rain would be unfortunate, it is unlikely to put off any of the 3,600 attendees who will all be determined to squeeze every ounce of debauchery out of the occasion. This experience is only available to a lucky few. In response to the ticketing debacle in 2016, which overloaded servers with 11,000 clicks per second from would-be buyers, the Otago University Students’ Association has debuted a lottery system. Each Hyde Street resident received eight tickets to give away or sell to their friends, and the remaining 1,800 were put into a sweepstakes with over 4,300 entries. For those lucky enough to snag a ticket, they’re too happy to let a little dampness ruin their day.
Gates are officially open and the (probably) 23rd annual Hyde Street Party has officially begun. Because the party existed for many years in an impromptu and unorganised manner before OUSA took over in 2013, records of the party’s origins are understandably hard to come by. Otago University Deputy Proctor Andrew Ferguson reckons 1995 was the first year it came to his attention. “It started out as a race to see which flat could drink their keg the fastest. Over the years the dressing up came to the fore and now the emphasis is not on finishing a keg, but on enjoying the day and other activities available.” Sarah Gallagher runs the Dunedin Flat Names Project, a recipient of the New Zealand History Research Trust Fund. She also says that 1995 is the earliest year she has been able to verify the party occurred, “The decorating of the houses and dressing in theme started much later (2000s) and through my documenting of flat names around North Dunedin this street certainly has the biggest turnover of names. As with general trends of naming across the area, the subject matter tends to follow themes of popular culture, puns on the name of the street, and of course sexual and drug innuendo.”
OUSA President Hugh Baird holds a press conference with the visiting media. He boasts of the 400 staff and volunteers, 7,000 sausages, free chicken and coleslaw sandwiches, churros and tankers full of water his organisation has arranged for the attendees. He makes a specific effort to point out that OUSA is covering the entire cost: “There’s a big myth that the ratepayers are paying for this, but that’s just not true.” This year, for the first time, even people invited by residents must be current students at a New Zealand tertiary institute to register their tickets. It’s hoped that this will result in a safer event after reports of assaults, and the presence of the Mongrel Mob on the street, in O Week.
The line of students waiting to get their wristbands scanned for entry stretches about 80 metres down Albany Street. A zebra boasts that he’s been “Sucking back Billy Mav’s since 4am” and his goals for the day include “Getting pissed and getting laid. I’m hoping to pull a giraffe, that would be mint.” A pair of Speedo Cops describe their costumes as “The product of a bad suggestion and a stupid decision, and it has backfired humongously… I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep the ladies away from these pasty white legs.” A little pink fairy provides some recipe advice: “I started drinking at 7am with a Berry Little Fat Lamb and some scrambled eggs. It’s a delicious combination, highly recommended.” Her goals for the day are simply “Remember some of it. Last year I fucked out at 9am, spent 8 hours in the medical tent, got taken home at 5pm, and remember nothing except for a lot of vomiting.”
The sun finally makes an appearance, and the effect on the general demeanour is immediately obvious. Everyone’s starting to get a real buzz on and there’s good vibes all around. The boys at the Hydeley Oval flat are all kitted out in their cricket whites and just wrapping up a hotly contested innings. The wicketkeeper offers some pitch analysis, “She’s a bit of a road, looks a lot like Indian conditions. Not seeing much turn, it’s tough out there for the bowlers right now, but I’m expecting a quick fall of wickets once it starts to break up later in the day.” Super Mario invades the pitch to tell me he has a breaking news story, “My flatmate is super upset right now because he tried to shelve an Ekky but then he forgot he put it there and accidentally pooed it out into a portaloo.” A batsman gets clean bowled and immediately discards his bat to go funnel a beer out of a road cone.
The street is now so full it’s hard to walk down. Two flats at either ends of the street have elaborate DJ setups, resulting in bottleneck for anyone trying to navigate around them. A surf lifesaver at Mello Yello gives me a tour of the house. Her flatmates knew they wanted to live on Hyde Street, so they were willing to deal with a run down flat, but when she first saw the condition it still shocked her: “It was so dirty, half the doors were broken, half the windows were smashed, someone had punched a hole in the ceiling. We couldn’t step anywhere in bare feet. [The previous tenants] got evicted and had to replace all the carpet in the living room, all the curtains had to be replaced because they were chainsmoking.” She started at 4am because she was woken up by the music. “I would have liked a bit more sleep, but I just said ‘fuck it’ and had some vodka in the shower.”
At the gate, two girls who have either already been kicked out or who don’t have tickets attempt to jump around the entrance and sprint for the street, hoping to get lost in the crowd. They get about 30 metres before two very large security guards grab them and boot them straight back out.
At the Flintstone’s Flat, a brick garage has been blacked out and turned into ‘The Rave Cave’, complete with DJ and glow sticks. A pair of Woodstock Hippy’s I meet inside tell the story of their day “We started at 4am with the breakfast of champions – Flame and Billy Mavs, God’s juice.” When asked how lit they are on a scale of 1-10, they respond with “9.9” and “37 … I’m lit enough that I just kissed another dude’s butthole. Tongue and all. I’m not ashamed to say I was hard by the end of it.” The plan for the rest of the day is “Give it a couple more hours, start candyflipping, black out hard face down in a drain”. Candyflipping (taking E and LSD simultaneously) proved to be surprisingly common on the day. Approximately half a dozen people I spoke to claimed they were on the drug combination.
In a display of more innocent fun, a squad of 10 or so cricketers have set up some catching drills for everyone to test their hand-eye co-ordination and are singing Blackcaps supporter’s song.
A cyclist kitted out in lycra and a helmet is attempting to find his teammates via walkie-talkie. “Kev, where are you? Over.” The response from Kev proves unhelpful: “I’m at Hyde, over”. A guy dressed as Rick Sanchez from the Adult Swim show Rick & Morty, one of the more popular costumes this year, gives an impassioned speech about his affinity for illicit substances “I’m on so much drugs. Everyone looks real fucking attractive right now. It’s great; it’s a good time. My heart’s racing. I would recommend to anyone that wants to try drugs: do it. It’s good for you. It’s good for your cholesterol.” A pair of shirtless guys, who apparently lost their costumes, run over to tell us their highlight of the party “We saw a four-way pelican (Vomiting, or in this case, spitting from one person’s mouth into another) with a can of Kingfisher Strong and half a tin of tuna.”
A group of people are going around with weedsprayers on their backs squirting drinks into people’s mouths. At first glance it looks like an elaborate Ghostbusters costume, but they turn out to be volunteers from OUSA feeding water to the thirsty crowd.
Probably the most popular costume of the day is Mike Nolan from the web series The Big Lez Show and the titular spinoff The Mike Nolan Show. I run into a group of eight Mike Nolan’s rocking hi-viz tops and fake goatees engaged in an intense cigarette-smoking contest. They’re competing to see who can hold their breath for the longest without coughing because, as they explain, “Cunts that exhale are wasting half their dart. You wouldn’t buy a coke and spit out half your drink, that’s no way to quench your thirst”.
A girl dressed as a farmer is lying down inside the yoga themed flat, “I’m way too drunk to function. My friend got kicked out and I’m here on the floor waiting for some water, because I’ve had too much of this vodka.” She gestures to the bottle in her hand, which is clearly red wine. When I point that out she snaps back “You look like wine. You look like a giant bottle of wine. Love life, Love wine, Love Hyde, come to New Zealand. I study tourism, I’m doing important tourism work right now, come to New Zealand everyone”. A security guard arrives with water and carries her away. He politely laughs off her repeated declarations of undying love.
A girl dressed as a Fruit Burst wrapper yells, “I got laid on Hyde!” The crowd applauds her valiant efforts. I ask her to go into further detail, “It was maybe an hour and a half in. Like 10:30am or so. He was a very sexy caveman. I did get a lot of facepaint on me during the act; it was amazing. I’m not gonna lie, it was very drunk sex, it wasn’t great. It was just kind of a battle. Probably the worst lay I’ve ever had. He was just so drunk. I brushed it off and was back on the street by noon.”
A girl dressed as topless Woodstock hippy with just a couple strips of electrical tape covering her nipples stops to explain the feminist statement behind her costume, “My friends and I decided to do #freethenipple because women’s bodies need to be normalised, people see these airbrushed models all the time in the media looking all skinny and perfect and photoshopped, it’s not realistic. Just having women’s bodies out there, even if we aren’t in perfect shape, is important. Girls should see other girls just having normal bodies and be OK about it.”
The party has begun to lose the infectious energy it buzzed with this morning. Tired partyers start to drag their feet, slumping along like Speight’s-infused zombies. The sun and the pre-dawn start time have started to get to everyone. A mermaid is sobbing on a front law as a scuba diver consoles her. Next to them, a boy in hot pink yoga shorts is lying motionless on the grass. I go to check on him, but he suddenly jerks to life and runs away to throw up into a storm drain. My interviews have started to reach the point of tall tales; one girl tells me she saw someone take a shit on a linoleum floor. Two guys claim they left the party at 11am to try breaking into the Forsyth Barr Stadium to kick some goals, but got caught by security guards and brought back into the party. Another guy, with a gash on his forehead, claims he got it from dissolving an acid tab directly into his bloodstream. Security guards have stepped their presence up into the next gear, escorting the exhausted and intoxicated home.
The street is once again barren. Security has come through and shepherded the crowds away with a cheery “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here”. In the place of waves of colourful, costumed dancers is an outright landfill. In some areas the road is entirely covered with plastic bottles, cans, cups, discarded costumes and lost phones. All that is left now are the residents themselves. The music blares on, a small group of hardy fellows continue to party on, kicking around the rubbish as they rave. “Trash party!” one of them cries, tossing garbage in the air like confetti. Their band of merry men cheers. They just threw the biggest party of the year, and they’re not quite ready to give it up, not just yet.