Contentment to have and to hold

One statistic more than any other sets the scene for the suburb of Waverley.

Where the rest of Dunedin, riven by loneliness and failed, transitory relationships, boasts a marriage rate of a sad 40%*, Waverley, the suburb of steady, solid and secure love, soars high at 60%.

Read that again – 60%.

And what benefits are produced by that commitment to love – tidy streets with well-kept gardens, natty brick houses with mowed lawns, tidy hedges and garages full of tools and projects – here is the quiet dream of southern suburbia.

Waverley is, of course, the sprawling suburb that clings to the side of the hill at the start of the Otago Peninsula, a suburb buffeted by wind but calm in its resolve to provide for decent, fruitful lives.

And how fitting the suburb is named after Sir Walter Scott’s romantic historical novel of the same name.

Sir Walter’s eponymous hero shared adventures with Scottish Highlanders and courted and was rejected by the beautiful but wild Flora Mac-Ivor.

The aristocratic Edward Waverley was drawn into the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and accused of desertion and treason before being pardoned and settling down with the calm and practical Rose Bradwardine.

Dunedin’s Waverley, too, has found its Rose.

At its highest point near Highcliff Rd, the suburb digs into the peninsula earth in sight of that geographical feature’s craggy knobs and trees blown horizontal by wind that thunders cold from the Antarctic, country that would probably feel like home to an angry 18th-century Scottish warrior type.

Here, a passing resident might briefly suffer the chemical madness of youth, the wind fanning the flames of their fading hormones into a blaze of passion for this cause or that, or sparking dizzy dreams of love and conquest.

But drift down the gentle slope of McKerrow St and such transient emotional frenzies drift out of mind.

Here, the thoughts of any Dunedin person would quickly turn to the quality and variety of bricks of the solid, tidy homes that stud the roadside with their permanence.

These are not just made of the red bricks of the 1930s and ’40s.

There are ’50s, ’60s and ’70s green bricks, brown and grey bricks, bricks of varying size and angle and bricks with all sorts of profiles from smooth to mountainous.

Not only are these home solidly built, they are beautifully kept, with neat gardens and crewcut grass with straight edges and swept paths – the homes of stable married couples with an investment in each other and their community.

It would be wrong to suggest the marriage rate is the only story in Waverley’s statistics.

The suburb is also better educated, with 29.8% of people aged 15 years and over holding a bachelor’s degree or higher as their highest qualification, compared with 22.7% for Dunedin as a whole.

Unemployment is about half the rest of the city, and median income is $36,000, compared with $23,300 for all of Dunedin.

And it is worth noting Waverley is a little older, with a median age of 45.3 years, compared with 36.7 years for the rest of the city.

Held gently within the soft bosom of marriage, these mid-40s, employed, well-educated, well-paid couples are reaping the rewards of spurning the attractions of wild and sultry lovers, putting the weapons and armour from their own Jacobite uprisings at the back of their cupboard and marrying their mild-mannered Rose.

From Waverley, they share a stunning view from on high, where the city spreads out below them in all its elderly beauty, and to the south, the sea glints green and rough.

Together in the glory of companionship they build neat picket fences, topiarise their trees into little green balls of flora and prune their roses carefully.

Basketball hoops erected for teenagers who have now, thankfully, left home to look after themselves gently rust above the garage door in the shade of a satellite dish.

Those garage doors in some homes are open, and the buzz of power tools tells of projects being completed – perhaps a swinging love seat ready for the autumn years being prepared for the back garden.

There it will swing gently in the wind, safe behind a sturdy fence.

Across Waverley, these seats will await the happily married in the dappled afternoon sun.

And the happily married will continue to come.

For love, with its passion calmed by the drift of time, is what it really takes to build a suburb.


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