Events · Victorian

Heritage Celebrations with a Twist Part I

I know, I know, I was a bad blogger last week – I took almost no photos whatsoever. Hardly any event photos and got zero photos of my 1893 Aubergine Dress on my own camera. I also didn’t take any photos of Mum wearing the Plum Ensemble that I made for her 😫

So… what’s my excuse? I spent the first two days trying (and generally succeeding) to enjoy myself despite my growing nerves about the Historical Fashion Show. Saturday was spent setting up, organising, and then overcoming those nerves as I stood up in front of a hall full of people to present the show. By Sunday I was just so relieved to have survived that I was able to relax but then the weather turned somewhat wintery. Those sound like legit reasons, right? 😏

Fortunately, I have been sent some photos from friends that I can add in to prevent this post being just words, words, words.

Earlier this year I accidentally volunteered to organise a historical fashion show as part of the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations. Me, a shy, introverted out-of-towner, suddenly responsible for delivering an event to the public. Yeah… I never thought I would ever do that – not in a million years.

Even so, despite everything, I was quite excited about being involved. I had a clear picture in my mind of what I wanted the show to be: I wanted to present a fashion show showing the progression of Victorian Fashion, and to hopefully send some of the audience away knowing a little bit more about it. I’ll write more on that in the next post but, for now, let’s time travel to the first half of the Heritage Celebrations…


Mum and Dad drove me to Oamaru on Thursday, while I was busy sewing on extra hooks and eyes onto my Aubergine Bodice. When we arrived we headed to Warehouse Stationery to print off some handouts for the show. I had had the idea that it might be nice to have something for the audience to look at to help fill in the gaps where we didn’t have a dress on the catwalk to fit a particular year.

With those printed off, it was time to check into my accommodation, have some lunch and say goodbye to my parents. Back in my room, my two suitcases exploded open and I set about getting ready.

Oh my goodness – it takes so much less time to dress your hair when all you’re doing is teasing it and pinning it up. I’m so used to using curling irons that I ended up being ready ahead of schedule. I was so grateful for my recent acquisition of a garment steamer too as my skirt had become rather crumpled in my suitcase.

There was still time before the Information Centre closed so I headed down to collect my tickets for the ball and the shindig. Once they were safely tucked away in my room (somewhere logical so I wouldn’t lose them later) I made my way down to the Opera House.

The foyer was already populated with Victorian ladies and gentlemen and several familiar faces. I said hello to some of the Victorian Wardrobe ladies before Diane Lee, the chair of the Heritage Celebrations committee came over to introduce herself.

We had been in touch over the previous months regarding the fashion show and the organisation of that but it was nice to finally meet face to face. She introduced me to David Verral who impersonates Richard Seddon (he wanted to meet me to plead his case for being in the fashion show).

A few other familiar faces turned up and I said hello to Jim, Jen, and Cheryl. There was a little time for chatting before we were all ushered outside for the Grand Opening.

Diane welcomed everyone and ran through some thank yous. David was introduced as Richard Seddon and delivered a quick speech. Representing the mayor, a man dressed as a chimney sweep (regrettably, I can’t remember his name at the moment) passed on his good wishes and declared the celebrations officially open.

As soon as the official business was dispensed with, some of those gathered dispersed, heading back into the foyer while others mingled outside. I turned around to look behind me and instantly recognised a dress before recognising the wearer – whoops!

Lorna had sent me a photo of one of the dresses that she had made and was wearing the replica of her great-grandmother’s dress which would be one of the three that she ended up wearing in the show. I went over and said hello and admitted to recognising the dress first and Lorna introduced me to her husband Russell (who she volunteered to help out during the fashion show.)

We headed back inside and mingled for a bit longer. I chatted to Julie about her horses and was very excited to learn that she had brought Bee up to give carriage rides at the garden party. I also met Anisha, who was also a committee member and who I had had some contact with online.

Karen and Garth had also arrived by this time so more hellos were shared, as well as wishing Karen a very happy birthday. Then, as I somehow manage to do, I fell in with Karen, Lorna, Cheryl, and several other delightful Dunedin historical dancers, and we left the Opening in search of a suitable place to have dinner to celebrate Karen’s birthday.

We settled on The Last Post (which, owing to the number of times I have dined there over the years, is definitely my local dining establishment). I was still quite full from lunch with Mum and Dad so was happy to nibble on some wedges while listening to an occasionally contributing to the many topics of conversation that flowed about the table.

We stayed until almost 7 when Cheryl and I, plus a couple of Interns, headed to Harbour Street and the Collective Cafe for the Suffrage Meeting. As soon as we entered I spotted a very familiar figure and hurried over to say hi to Maree.

We sat together with Renee, one of Maree’s friends from work. The evening was filled with speeches, readings, and songs. It was definitely an enjoyable evening and well attended although it did get a bit warm so stepping outside afterwards was quite refreshing.

The only photo I have of my new Aubergine Dress!

On Friday morning I got myself ready and after a couple of wardrobe malfunctions such as discovering that I had either lost or left my reticule behind somewhere (I still haven’t found it…). Feeling a little flustered by this and having frustrating difficulty fixing my brooch straight, I ended up running a bit late for the ball practice. Yes, me, who hates being late and usually arrives early everywhere!

Jen and Jim, once again, did an amazing job introducing us to some of the dances we would be dancing that evening. I especially liked learning one of the Alberts, I think that it was Figure 2.

Thanks to Garth for the ball practice photos
Thanks to Garth for the ball practice photos

Afterwards I wandered down Thames Street, debating whether I should pop into the Early Settlers Hall for Elevenses with Mrs B, or back to the Opera House for the morning tea they were offering. I got distracted by the artworks being displayed on the fence outside the Court House. As I was perusing them, I glanced down the street and spotted Maree standing outside the library (yes, I recognised her by her bustle!).

I walked down to catch up with her and we waited for her mother Pat. Not failing to disappoint, Pat once again had donned her panhandling outfit (and antics). We all chatted for a bit and met with David Wilson as he wheeled his penny farthing out of the library. David once rode his penny farthing from Stewart Island all the way to Cape Reinga and gives talks about it.

We could already see people gathering outside the Opera House in anticipation of the Group Photo. Maree introduced me to Scott’s mother and aunt, who were both very excited to be dressing up and taking part. As everyone starting vying for the best position I stepped down to say hello to Gregory and Rose-Sharon and… well, okay, being a little vertically challenged I was hoping not to be hidden away behind too many people.

Assembling. Photo thanks to Garth

I ended up standing between Rose-Sharon and Maree in the front row. It was the perfect vantage point to watch the bustle of tourists trying to take photos of the assembled participants and to hear the announcements of who was best-dressed-to-theme.

Lorna was awarded best-dressed-to-theme for her 1880s maid’s uniform (which she also wore to open the fashion show the next day). She was a brilliant representative of the Downstairs part of the Upstairs Downstairs theme. And, representing the Upstairs folk, Jill’s husband Steven was also awarded best-dressed-to-theme.

The official photograph was taken and then we were asked to stay put so that the photo for the Otago Daily Times. We stood as we were as two penny farthing riders (David Williams and Colin Barnes) cycled past in an attempt to get the money shot. It was a great shot and was really cool to see on the front page the next day.

After a bit more mingling about, Maree, Pat, and I went to get some lunch and chat. Almost half of the cafe patrons were dressed up, and the rest either seemed very ho-hum about it (oh, it must be that time of year again…) and the others were more intrigued. One patron even pulled out his phone to take a small video (fortunately I wasn’t about to put any food in my mouth at the time).

Pat bid us adieu once lunch was over and Maree and I headed down to the Historic Precinct to check out the brilliant Tape Art that had been appearing on some of the walls. We marvelled over the details from the texture of the hair and the inclusion of the tiniest pieces of tape for nuts on the gig’s wheels. We took a couple of photos too – how could we not?

We then began on our way towards the Gardens. The weather was still threatening rain so we hoped that it would hold off and that the heavens wouldn’t open up, sending the party attendees scattering for cover.

Maree’s workplace was near the Gardens so we stopped in so that her workmates could see her dressed up (I forget that the first couple of days of the Celebrations are normal workdays for so many…). After some chatting (and introductions) it was time to continue on towards the Gardens.

Many had already assembled, despite the looming threat of rain, and a game of croquet was also underway. Julie and Bee were giving carriage rides, live music floated about, from the cover of the band rotunda, ladies were serving tea, and girls were passing out sandwiches and scones.

The weather wasn’t going to stop anyone from enjoying the afternoon. We milled about, stopping to talk to people we knew, and to meet some that we didn’t. I met Mel and her friend Hannah, who had both come down from Auckland, and who had both agreed to be in the fashion show.

It started to feel very much like it was about to rain and there was no way that I was missing out on a carriage ride so Maree and I joined the queue with Lorna, Russell, Karen, and Garth. We saw them off first and then it was our turn. Hitching my skirt up enough to enter the carriage (and to still be modestly respectable), I stepped up and turned to be ready to offer Maree a hand if she needed it.

Maree stepping up

We both settled into our seats and Julie urged Bee on. We waved to our friends as we headed off. Light raindrops began to fall as we were on our way and was grateful that even if it did start to rain properly we had succeeded in having our ride. Maree and I felt like ladies on an afternoon drive as we passed other people in the Gardens and it was over far too soon.

We pulled up next to the queue and Maree and I stepped down from the carriage. As I had climbed down on the other side I had to walk back around but that was fine by me since I could stop to stroke Bee’s nose and say thank you.

More passengers for Julie and Bee

We hung about the Gardens a few minutes afterwards before deciding that it was time to head off. Maree had to finish sewing buttons on her new bodice and I was hoping to take another look at my script for the show and freshen up before getting ready for the ball.

It rained while I was getting ready but by the time I left to walk down to the hall it had mostly let up. The temperature had dropped so I was very grateful to have my Talma Wrap.

Several people were already at the hall and had occupied a few tables. I spotted Mel and Hannah at one table and walked over to say hi. They had three free chairs (two were already saved) and they were happy to share the table with Maree, Scott, and I. We chatted for a bit before Maree and Scott arrived.

As it grew closer to 8 o’clock the hall really began to fill up. 100 tickets had been sold, numbers up on the last couple of years. It was great to see a real range of ages there too – teenagers right the way through to retired ladies and gentlemen.

As it does every year the Grand March kicked everything off. I partnered up with Naomi and ended up linking up with Rose-Sharon and Gregory. There’s always something quite stirring about bagpipe music and everyone appeared to be stepping in time. Julie led us through Rule Britannia and then couples either left the floor or stayed for the first waltz.

I sat and watched for the first part of it before I was asked to dance and I warned my partner that I wasn’t very good. He was more than happy to talk me through it and I finally got the hang of it until we started having a conversation. Usually, I can multitask but not, it seems when dancing!

I believe this was taken during the Veleta Progressive? Photo thanks to Garth

I danced quite a few of the dances and also found that this year the catering had been very well organised with plenty of vegetarian-friendly options as well as catering for others with special dietary requirements. I have attended the ball several times now and always have a wonderful evening. We stayed right to the end and to our relief, the weather outside was rather accommodating for the walk back. Needless to say, I think that everyone slept well…

Except for me that is – find out why when I post Part 2!

3 thoughts on “Heritage Celebrations with a Twist Part I

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