I woke on Friday, full of excitement for a very full day of Victorian and Oamaruvian goodness. Still quite used to waking early for work, despite my week’s worth of holiday, I got up and after a shower, it was time to get ready.
Thankfully, despite taking a little longer than I had hoped, my hair cooperated and curled reasonably well as I curled and pinned, curled and pinned, hoping to end up with a passable looking hairstyle at the back.
As I had left my Shippensburg dress where I had
dumped placed it the night before, it was a quick and easy task to put my bustle cage, petticoats, and skirts back on. I chose to debut my new Penguin Bodice that morning and to again wear my new French Bonnet.
Unfortunately, the breakfast plans with friends fell through and as I was already out the door I decided to wander around the precinct for a while. A tourist couple asked to take my photo and then asked about what events were happening. I was able to tell them a bit about the celebrations and point them in the direction of the Information Centre.
I continued to wander about the precinct and after a couple of loops decided to head back to the Empire for a bit before ball practice started. My timing couldn’t have been more amusing as a large group of motorcyclists had just parked up on Itchen Street and were walking, leather-clad, towards the Steampunk place. I could not have felt more overly dressed and they all seemed to think that the juxtaposition was as equally amusing.
Once we had passed each other by I crossed the road, only to find myself passing through a group of newly-departed-off-a-bus tourists. It starts with one request for a photo and then everyone else wanted to take one too, which was really sweet.
I met Liane back at the Empire and we headed down to the Scottish Hall for ball practice. Jim and Jen are absolutely amazing, donating so much of their time to organising not just the ball but teaching the dances in the weeks leading up to the celebrations for locals, and on the morning before the ball for everyone. I would be absolutely doubly left footed and thoroughly lost on the dance floor without their teaching.
We learned the Dinky One Step, and the Veleta Progressive, as well as revisiting a few that I already sort of knew. I sat out the Tango Waltz as I still find dances with several steps too complicated (I’m still two-left-footed and have no sense of timing).
As we left the ball practice, I hoped that I would actually remember the dances by the time evening rolled around. There was a little bit of time before the Group Photo so we promenaded in a leisurely fashion down towards the Opera House to stake out a good position.
Walking down Thames Street we ran into Maree and her mother Pat, who had gone for a beggar woman look (and looked fantastic), not to mention that she totally upped her game by panhandling at the same time. I think by the end of the day she had made about $15, not bad at all… It’s always brilliant that some people dress to theme on the Friday of the Celebrations, it really adds to the creativity on display.
There was also a group, including Donna Demente and Oliver, who embraced the lower classes and did that fantastically too. I know that I’m guilty of always dressing ‘up’ and wearing dresses probably above the class I would have been born into. I guess pretty upper-class fashions are always more alluring when sewing historically so I really do admire people who dress ‘down’ instead.
Down at the Opera House, we mingled as the crowd swelled. The numbers had definitely increased from the previous year so that was absolutely brilliant and encouraging. I believe that the numbers of people standing across the road to photograph us had also increased. Tourists were also dashing across the road to take selfies in front of us until it was time to assemble for the official photo.
This year the official photo was taken by Brian and Jane of Brass and Glass Photographic Alchemy which meant having to stand perfectly still for several seconds, followed by a nervous wait to see if the print had been successful. It had, and it came out beautifully.
Embracing the thoroughly Victorian tradition of changing several times a day I ducked back to my room to evolve from a 1880s woman to a 1890s one. I changed from my Penguin Suit into my Antique Rose ensemble, quick quickly actually, since I didn’t have to bother about doing anything to my hair and I wasn’t having to change my innermost undergarments.
Liane had also changed and we both decidedly felt like we were in need of a caffeine hit before the Garden Party. We returned to the Opera House to buy our coffees from the cafe and bar there. Wanted posters of the staff members had been hung up about the place, complete with mug shots and some interesting crimes noted. Our coffee orders were countered with compliments and an interesting conversation about corsets with three of the staff, all attired as convicts.
Hot coffees in hand, Liane and I strolled back up Thames Street. We looked into the library as we were passing and spotted Cheryl and Colleen, who waved at us to come in and join for the remainder of an interesting talk about penny farthings. The four of us then headed for the Botanic Gardens.
I absolutely love the Gardens in Oamaru – I truly think that they are one of the most beautiful in the country. I remember visiting there when I was a child sometimes when we visited my grandparents who lived nearby in Hampden. I knew the flowers were pretty but what held my interest back then was a gorgeous Clydesdale whose name was Robbie (if I remember correctly) and we once rode in the wagon that he pulled.
Entering the gardens we met up with Jill and her husband and chatted as we headed along the path towards the rotunda and the party. Jill told us about an extant dress that she had had in her collection which she had decided to donate to the Victorian Wardrobe so that they could take care of it and study.
Drawing closer to the Garden Party I noticed a particular beggarwoman and her daughter up ahead of us. Begging apologies for parting from my present company, I lifted my skirts and ran to catch up with the Foxes. As I caught up with them I told Maree that she really should take care of her mother better and fell into step beside them.
We joined the Garden Party and said hello to various people that we knew before Maree and I took a short turn about the gardens talking. On our return, we noticed the Brass and Glass darkroom, and curiosity got the better of us. There was a framed poster leaning against the darkroom detailing the history of the tintype which was interesting reading and as we finished it Jane asked us if we wanted our tintype taken.
Both Maree and I hesitated, certainly yes, we did want to have tintypes taken but we were both running outfits through our heads, trying to decide which we would prefer to wear for such an amazing opportunity. Maree asked if they would be at the fete and Jane said they would. And that they would be at the ball that night. Maree and I looked at each other and our faces said the same thing ‘that would be so amazing!’ So we both booked in times to come and see Jane and Brian then.
We returned to the thick of the party and accepted proffered sandwiches, scones and tea while migrating about the throng of people, chatting to those we knew and meeting new people. Then came an announcement that something was about to take place – something entertaining and yet ‘illegal’.
A boxing arena had been roped off and the most amusing play fight was performed, complete with a knockout and assistance from a doctor, and a very real dousing of water. Not to mention an interruption by a constable who broke up the match and then wanted to have a go himself. It was absolutely brilliantly scripted and performed.
Slowly the crowd of party attendees dissipated and I headed back to the Empire to put my feet up for a bit before getting ready for the ball. Of course, I was far too excited about the ball to actually put my feet up and began to get ready much earlier than I needed to. I guess that I still did put my feet up for a while but it was just after I was dressed and had put my hair into a more evening appropriate style.
As I had booked myself in for my tintype at 7:45 I made my way down towards the Scottish Hall a bit before then. The hall looked amazing, as it always does for the ball, and the tables had all been arranged at the front which lent itself brilliantly for socialising between dances. Several people had already arrived and I joined Johanna and Martin at their table, reserving seats for Maree and Scott, and for Liane.
I took off my Talma Wrap and hung it across the back of my chair and went to the room where Brian and Jane were setting up. They told me that they’d still be a while so to come back and see them after the Grand March – they should be ready by then. Heading back into the hall I was stopped by a very nice lady who wanted to photograph my dress from all angles, and was very lovely.
Maree and Scott arrived and after greeting them and filling them in on the slight postponement to our tintype appointments I showed them to our table. We all chatted as the rest of the ball-goers arrived and found themselves tables to join. The Grand March was announced and Liane hadn’t yet arrived so I thought that I might have to miss out on it. Then I noticed a young woman sitting by herself at another table, also without a partner so I tapped her on the shoulder and we fell into place with everybody else as the piper struck up.
The Grand March ended, as always with Rule Britannia (I keep meaning to actually learn the verses but always forget), and we all returned to our seats. The first dance was announced and while couples moved towards the dance floor, I skirted around the outside of the hall to go and see Brian and Jane.
As I was the first they were photographing that evening I ended up being their guinea pig as they checked their framing, the lights, and the exposure time. I can definitely say that I was nice and toasty warm standing in front of the lights. I also think that while the test shot was for their own benefit, I also benefitted from it, being able to practice standing perfectly still for a few seconds.
Maree and Scott came into the room after the dance finished and found the whole process as fascinating as I did. Once the test shot had developed, a few changes were made and then it was time to take the proper shot. Because I had been standing so still I wasn’t aware that I had been holding my breath until Jane reminded me to breathe. The lens cap was taken off and I spent five very long seconds paranoid that I was going to move or blink.
Once the lens cap was put back in place and Brian took the plate to the darkroom I finally relaxed and moved out from in front of the lights. It took my eyes a few moments to adjust to the level of light in the rest of the room and it felt quite liberating being able to blink without worry.
Realising that I had left my reticule on the table I ducked back into the hall to retrieve it, and was surprised that the hall was empty due to the soup course already being served. No matter, I was having too much fun to worry about soup. I returned with my reticule to pay and Brian came in to show me the tintype developing. It was absolutely incredible to watch my image materialise, starting out as a ghostly form and then slowly growing more detailed. And crystal clear. I breathed a sigh of relief, so grateful that I hadn’t moved a muscle.
I was also blown away by the fact that I looked truly like a High Society Victorian Lady.
It was Maree and Scott’s turn next, and I stayed to watch the process from behind the camera. It was really interesting to see everything that was done since I couldn’t really watch while I was standing statue still in front of the camera looking at my spot. Once their image was taken we stayed to watch Karen and her husband getting theirs taken too.
We returned to the ball and joined in with the dances. While the tintype taking and watching of tintypes being taken was incredible, and I would again choose and sacrifice a few dances, it was nice to be on the dancefloor. It was soon time for the fish course to be served. Being vegetarian, it’s the one course that I can’t usually partake in so it was quite a surprise to step into the room and find that hot chips were also being served. Having eaten nothing since the Garden Party I was quite happy to have something to nibble on.
Between the remaining courses, Liane and I partnered up and danced most of the remaining dances together, as well as the Veleta Progressive which – I was happy to find – I still remembered from the morning. I had missed out on the Military Two Step while having my tintype taken (I could hear the Teddy Bear’s Picnic music playing from the hall), but fortunately, I had not missed my other favourite, the St Bernard’s Waltz. I even stole Maree off Scott for a dance as well.
The evening flew by far too quickly (as it always does when one is having fun) and before we knew it the final waltz was called. Despite starting to feel fatigued, we headed to the dance floor for the final time, sad that the evening was drawing to a close. Actually, by then the evening had well and truly passed us by and it was early Saturday morning…
The lights were turned back on as our fellow ball-goers began to pack up their belongings and began to depart. A few had left a dance or two earlier but most, like us, had seen it to the end. We gathered our things up (including our prized tintypes) and took the time to take a few more photos to remember the ball by. Delaying, I suppose, walking out into the cool night air and admitting to ourselves that the event was well and truly over.
I barely recognised the time on the town clock as Liane and I walked back to our accommodation and said goodnight to each other. A wave of exhaustion passed over me once I was back in my room, a good sort of exhaustion, however, and as soon as my head hit the pillow I fell fast asleep, too tired even to dream of beautiful ball gowns, lovely music, and dances.
If you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.
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