The day started off smoothly, starting at my parents’ house, and leaving ahead of schedule to make it to Palmerston for my bus on to Oamaru. We even had enough time to pop out to Shag Point to look at the seals before having lunch back in Palmerston. I kept checking the time, counting down to the bus’s arrival. Beyond excited, I started getting a little impatient and while we were standing at the bus stop I remembered that Intercity has a ‘track my bus’ option. It was due in a few minutes but it was forever away. My bus was running late.
Half an hour late. Which would mean arriving in Oamaru half an hour later than planned. Not cool. My excitement evolved into a combination of excitement and nervousness. I knew everything that I had to do when I arrived to get myself sorted and ready for the Grand Opening and had it all planned out in my head but I really did need that half hour to make sure that it all progressed smoothly. But, like many things, it couldn’t be helped. I just had to hope that it would still work out with less time.
My bus finally arrived and I boarded, after seeing that my suitcase carrying very precious cargo (my costumes) was safely stowed. Three-quarters of an hour later we were driving into Oamaru and with the sight of familiar buildings, I started to really get excited. I was here. Half an hour later than I’d hoped but I had made it. I was in Oamaru and I was so ready to start the Heritage Celebrations.
As soon as I was off the bus I jumped into action. I pushed my suitcase down Thames Street towards the Empire, the wheels clicking on the brick footpath, sounding like a train clacking along the tracks. As I drew closer I passed a couple of already dressed women sitting outside a cafe. ‘Oh gosh, I thought, they’re dressed already – I wish that I was,’ I thought.
‘You’re making a lot of noise,’ one of the ladies said and I acknowledged that I sounded like a train. As she took her sunglasses off I realised that I was talking to Cheryl! Clearly, my brain was so focussed on my to-do list that I hadn’t been fully aware of my surroundings. I quickly gave her a hug and greeted her properly while she teased me about having five minutes to change. She also introduced me to her friend Colleen.
I told them that I’d see them again soon and continued on my way to the Empire to check in and to wrestle my (nearly 20kg) suitcase up the stairs to my room. Pushing my suitcase into my room I hurried down to the Information Centre to collect my tickets and then popped into Farmers for hairspray. ‘Do you need a bag?’ I was asked. ‘No thanks, I’m literally about to use it.’
It took five seconds for my room is resemble the aftermath of a hurricane as my suitcase contents went everywhere. Once I had located everything I needed for the evening I changed into my undergarments and began to attack my hair. There’s nothing quite so annoying as trying to curl one’s hair when the hair decides that it doesn’t want to do what you tell it. Great, something else to stress me out.
Spotify to the rescue. I selected my classical playlist and as I struggled with organising my hair the beautiful music helped me to calm down a bit. Eventually, I had forced my hair into some sort of style and checked the time. I was still behind schedule but I wasn’t risking running late just yet. And getting dressed takes a lot less time than doing my hair so by the time I was fully dressed and ready to leave I ended up with a few minutes to spare before the Grand Opening.
If I had been anxious and stressed up until then, I soon forgot about it as I left the Empire and began walking towards the Precinct. The Heritage Celebration flags on the lampposts were wavering in the wind, and the banner above Itchen street proudly advertised the fete. I had been waiting all year to be here and finally, here I was. I could feel my excitement growing with each step. I felt like I had come home again.
Turning up Harbour Street I found Cheryl and Colleen again and we stood together talking for a couple of minutes before Maree arrived. We hugged hello and I gave her her ticket for the opening before she escorted us around to the entrance to Whitestone City.
I had seen pictures of Whitestone City online and knew that it was amazing but seeing it for myself was incredible. After producing our tickets and collecting our glasses of wine, Maree played tour guide as we explored. There was so much to take in, just in the streetscape and shops that I knew I would have to come back later to have a second look (spoiler: for some very odd reason I didn’t – I have no idea why…). I was very impressed by the model of the Criterion and the images projected onto it (which was created by someone who works for Weta, if I remember what I was told correctly).
Moving from the streetscape we found where the official opening and speeches were to take place. Everyone in attendance was mingling, greeting old friends, and chatting to new acquaintances while the Pearl and Dagger company played gorgeous background music from the stage. Many of the seats had already been occupied so Maree and I had to scout for a couple of spaces to claim as our own.
While seated, and conversing with Maree, I glanced about the place, mentally ticking off a list of familiar faces. The Heritage Celebrations are always a bit like a family reunion, while you may not yet know everyone, there are always people that you see every year. And always, by the end of the celebrations, there’s a good chance that you’ve met and got to know a few more than the year before.
By this time Maree and I had both finished our glasses of wine so while Maree saved my spot I took the glasses back to return them. I managed to get myself tangled up with a cluster of people so my walk back to my seat was slowed and happily interrupted by a gentleman stopping to tell me that he had seen my blog (it still amazes me that people read it). Marise Martin, the organiser of the Celebrations also introduced herself to me, knowing who I am through this blog and my facebook page. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any time right then to chat as the speeches were about to start.
After the speeches, everyone returned to mingling, the penny farthing carousel was turned on, and a few of us splintered off from the main group to explore. Maree and I wandered into the ‘house’ area of Whitestone City and sat down, observing everyone from a distance. It didn’t take long before we were joined by Liane, Cheryl and Colleen. And in even less time, the cameras came out.
Earlier in the evening Maree and I had been photographed by a lady taking photos to use for promotional purposes by Tourism Waitaki. She found us right as we were taking a seat at the dining table and, as chances would have it, Gary Kircher, the mayor, also happened to be close by. Seizing the opportunity, Cheryl told him to join us and he sat at the head of the table and we all posed for a few photographs. I suppose, while it was only pretend, I could now claim to have ‘dined’ with the mayor (how very high society…)
Continuing on our exploration of Whitestone City, we lost Liane, Cheryl, and Colleen to a group gathered about a piano. Maree and I stopped in the classroom, which gets used for school visits, as well as being a display of what schooling was like. Reading the list of punishments for various offences certainly made me glad that I went to school in the twentieth century, not the nineteenth, though I think that I was a pretty well-behaved child (at least I hope that I was!).
From the classroom, we found our way into the bar/brothel (yes, you read that correctly – Oamaru’s history is an interesting one) and were both told, within moments of stepping in there, that it wasn’t an establishment for ladies such as ourselves! We wandered about a bit and ended up pausing at the bar. Liane soon found us and we were busy chatting when a lady approached and said, quite seriously, to me, ‘I’m so sorry to hear that your husband has passed away.’
At first, I thought that she had mistaken me for someone else and it wasn’t until she elaborated on the fact that I was in black that I realised she had said it lightheartedly. I admitted to being confused at first as I didn’t ‘even know that I had a husband’ and then explained that by the 1880s, black was a fashionable colour, no longer just reserved for mourning dresses. I’m quite used to receiving a comment now and then about being in mourning when I wear my Shippensburg Dress though.
From the ‘evening establishment’, we returned to the main area and climbed into the wagon by the penny farthing carousel to sit and watch people. The crowd had thinned out by then, no doubt off to refresh themselves before the evening’s entertainment. Still not ready to depart ourselves, Maree and I had a good look at the extant dresses on display before realising that we too, should start making our way down to the Early Settlers’ Hall.
Every Thursday night, for as long as I can remember, there has always been a lighthearted performance of skits. I believe that it is a great way for many people to relax from their ‘normal, everyday life’ with its stresses and concerns and to enter into the upcoming days of the Heritage Celebrations. This evening was no different, very lighthearted, and quite amusing.
Not everyone attending had been present at the Grand Opening so intermission and supper offered a chance to greet others that we knew and I had a chance to say hello and have a chat with Pauline (one of the very lovely ladies who was first to take me under her wing a few years ago). It was also an opportunity to catch up with Pat, Maree’s mother, who is really lovely and a talented historical seamstress.
By the end of the evening, all of the stress and panic from being late and feeling rushed had long been forgotten. While it might have taken longer than I had intended or hoped to reach Oamaru and embrace the Heritage Celebrations, I was now there and fully immersed in it. With the first two wonderful events attended and enjoyed, it was time to try and locate my bed under the mess created some hours ago and to get some sleep, ready for the events of Friday to unfold…
If you’re interested, Part 2 can be found here