Due to the Covid Restrictions still in play while New Zealand battles the Delta Outbreak that started in August, the committee organising the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations decided it was best to cancel the event for this year. A crushing blow for anyone, like me, who had been using the event as the light at the end of the tunnel during Lockdown, but inevitable as the South Island remained in limbo with restrictions in place and events being cancelled left, right, and centre.
However, I decided to keep my travel plans as they were, and escape the reality of 2021 for a few days. I was not alone, as some of my other friends and acquaintances also chose to still travel, and some locals were also keen to indulge in some time travel as well. A few smaller, independent, and ticketed events were organised in place of the regular, official ones to form a sort of Unofficial Heritage Celebrations instead.
It was definitely more low key than usual, with lots of free time to entertain oneself as best they could. But, considering that it offered a chance to relax and forget (mostly) about the 1pm daily reports of case numbers and vaccination percentage updates, it was a more than welcome distraction. And I am so utterly grateful to those who stepped up and organised the unofficial events like the Champagne High Tea, the Ball, and the ‘Little Bit of Everything’ dance.
One could not escape completely however, as masks were still in play, along with scanning in to every place we visited.
A few weeks prior I had realised that mask wearing while visiting shops and dining establishments would probably still be required I pulled out some leftover scraps of fabric and made up a couple of masks to match my outfits. I received quite a few compliments regarding this and some people told me that they had thought about it but hadn’t had the time.
I had arrived in Oamaru on the Wednesday but instead of immediately indulging in any time travel I instead spent the afternoon meeting my new nephew Theo and hanging out with his mother, my dear friend Maree.
So, it was on Thursday that I jumped back into the Victorian Era.
I had woken quite early (still not quite on holiday time) and decided to head down to the Gardens to take some photos. Unfortunately, I discovered on arrival, my favourite photo space was already occupied by gardeners in bright orange vests and I didn’t want to risk trying to take photos while feeling awkward – or chance them ending up in the background.
So, instead I had a wander about the Gardens before heading for the Victorian Precinct. The Criterion, crown jewel of the Precinct, was dressed for Christmas wearing her wreath.
As I was sauntering down Harbour Street I glanced in at the entrance to Whitestone City where I spotted Dianne and her husband Duncan, so popped in to say hello. They were on their way out but we took a few photos in the parlour space first.
I spent some time with Dianne and Duncan, browsing some shops along Harbour Street and enjoying a nice cup of coffee from Casa Mia. And, of course, I couldn’t go past the penny farthing without climbing on 😅
After we parted ways I visited Steampunk HQ, with the sole purpose of setting foot in The Portal and having a little fun taking photos in there. As there weren’t many visitors in the museum at the time I ended up in The Portal twice to make the most of it.
I did delight in surprising one couple who I heard talking on the other side of the door the first time I was in there. I was about to leave and I could hear the wife reading the instructions to her husband. As she started repeating them to him and I heard ‘it says “open the door”‘ I opened it and the two of them started as they saw me – obviously unaware anyone had been inside.
I’ve only just realised that I missed the perfect opportunity to ask what year it was and to react in a horrified manner that I had ‘arrived’ in 2021…
I eventually ended up back at my accommodation, just as a couple that I knew arrived. I helped them carry some of their bits and pieces up to their room. They hadn’t packed light so several trips were involved, but I’ve become quite good at walking up stairs in long skirts without having to lift the hems with my hands.
A few of us arranged to meet up for drink at the Criterion in the early evening before going out to dinner. It was so lovely to step inside and find so many familiar faces sitting at the tables. There were many hellos and conversations as we caught up with one another.
As our number increased we moved through to the ‘Gentleman’s Smoking Room’ (where women are allowed and there is no smoking’ for more space. As we were there, a few locals popped in and joined us too.
From there we headed on to our different dinner plans to end the first day feeling pleased that we had made it to Oamaru and that we were able to indulge in a little escapism and time travel.
I decided to attempt photos in the Gardens on the Friday morning in the hopes that I would arrive before the gardeners, or at least that the gardeners would have moved on to a different area than the space that I wanted to take photos in.
Fortunately, they were nowhere to be seen so I was able to get a few photos of the V-neck iteration of my Tartan Dress. I’ve made a separate post here to prevent this one becoming too picture-heavy.
I then headed back to the Victorian Precinct for the ball practice. Again, it was wonderful to see some more familiar faces and catch up with everyone.
As usual, I was coming along partner-less but teamed up with Tony, an older gentleman whose partner hadn’t made the trip to Oamaru. I do feel sorry for him though, as he has competed in Ballroom Dancing competitions and I’m pretty sure that I have two left feet.
We went through some of the usual dances and also learned the Scottish Country Waltz and the Gay Gordons (as this year’s theme was supposed to be Scottish Heritage). I think they have both joined my list of favourite dances although, as I hadn’t really eaten breakfast I got quite dizzy during the Gay Gordons and made a mental note to make sure I had eaten prior to the dance in the evening (and to also avoid the wine).
After the practice I met up with Maree and Theo and we promanaded about for a while, with my nephew in a vintage pram. People kept asking if there was a real baby in the pram and got really excited by the fact that yes, there was a Real Life Victorian Baby inside.
For the first half of our promenade, he fell asleep, obviously lulled by the motion of the pram. And so slept through most of these interactions with curious bystanders, unaware of the fuss he was causing.
Theo wasn’t totally convinced that he was happy to wear his smock and kept grabbing it in his fist, holding it out to say ‘Aunty, what was Mum thinking, putting me in this dress?’ He was also bemused by his mother’s transformation, but was absolutely fascinated by my dress with the red and green in it, and by the feathers in my hat blowing about in the wind.
I got plenty of smiles, and when it was time to part ways he had a firm grip on my finger and didn’t want to release it. But, I think he was happy once he got home and was able to transform back into a 21st century baby.
The Champagne High Tea at the Criterion was absolutely divine and easily the best high tea I have ever had. I sat with Jill and Stephen and it was so lovely to catch up with them. It was through this conversation, and others that I had over the few days that made me realise that I wasn’t the only one who had lost my sewing mojo and had left sewing projects unfinished to take on next year.
While we historical costumers from all over the country who make the annual trip to Oamaru for the Victorian Heritage Celebrations were separated from each other, we all have had the same shared experience.
After saying goodbye to everyone, and thanking Marise for a wonderful high tea, it was time to head back to my room for a wee break and to get ready for the Ball.
The Ball opened with the Grand March, followed by the Circular Waltz. After we sat down, Jim announced that someone had left a heel behind on the dance floor, holding up a heel cap.
‘How unfortunate for that person,’ I thought, before having the feeling that I should check my shoes – just in case. Uh oh, guess who was playing Cinderella at the ball? The heel cap had come from one of my boots! My wonderful American Duchess Tavistocks no less!
I quickly claimed the heel cap and pushed it back into place, hoping that it would stay there for the rest of the evening. Fortunately, it did, but I was rather paranoid throughout the rest of the evening, checking it after every couple of dances, and pressing my weight through it to make sure it stayed put (this, I have since figured out was the cause of my later-discovered injury).
But apart from that, the Ball was absolutely fantastic and I had a wonderful time. As I had a partner for the evening, I ended up dancing much more than I have in the past, which was really quite enjoyable. I apologised profusely during the course of the evening when I got myself a bit muddled, but for the most part I think I did okay. I accidentally danced the Jazz Twinkle, which I didn’t know, but I didn’t escape from the dance floor fast enough. But, by following the woman in front of me I could figure most of it out and, by the end of it I knew (mostly) what I was doing.
As always, I enjoyed the Alberts, and my new favourites of the Scottish Country Waltz and Gay Gordons. By the end of the evening I was feeling tired so when a couple staying at the same place decided to head off I joined them so I didn’t have to walk back alone.
While Friday had closely resembled a normal Friday during the Heritage Celebrations, Saturday was quite different.
The first order of the day was to through on my jeans, hoodie and mask and rush down to the supermarket to purchase some superglue to really make sure that heel cap wasn’t going anywhere (I had made the mistake of checking it after the ball and dislodging it again). It took me a while to locate it but soon I was back in my room carrying out emergency cobbler-surgery before I got ready for the day.
The couple I’ve mentioned, had instigated a picnic lunch in the Gardens, and Maree, Scott, little Theo, and myself had agreed to join them. But that still left the morning free for me to fill.
I headed down to the Victorian Precinct where I discovered Dee May and the Saints were playing at the back of the Criterion. As I was walking I spotted Kerri and Mel listening and dancing and hurried over to say hello. It was great to catch up since I hadn’t seen them since my trip to Christchurch to visit Kate Sheppard House in March.
I also ran into a few other friends and acquaintances before realising that I still had to pop into Harbour Street Bakery to get something for lunch and it was nearly time to head down to the Gardens for the picnic.
As it turns out, the couple who instigated the picnic never showed, but Maree and Scott had made it to our spot a couple of minutes earlier and were already set up. I set out my blanket next to theirs and connected my UE Boom to my phone so we could have some lovely classical music in the background (you know, to make it fancy).
The four of us had a lovely time together, chatting and catching up, and making a complete fuss over Theo. I got some lovely smiles and plenty of cuddles.
We finished our lunch and took quite a few Victorian family photos before Theo had decided that he was ready for another nap and it was time to go home.
They dropped me back with my bits and pieces and I ended up getting ready for the dance early. I did run into the woman who instigated the picnic who happily told me all about their afternoon of visiting places and eating ice cream before going to their high tea later in the afternoon.
I rested for a short while before changing for the dance. As always, I was ready earlier than I needed to be so had plenty of time to make my way to the hall.
As I was walking down I noticed that my shin was feeling a bit sore and thought that probably I shouldn’t dance too much because that might make it worse.
I was wearing my ball dress from the day before, just without my fancy necklace and without my tiara, and ended up chatting with Cheryl and another lovely lady about the Ghillies Balls that Victoria and Albert used to hold in Scotland. We then talked about other things and the lovely lady asked me if I would like to join her table (I feel absolutely terrible that I don’t know her name).
The evening was a lot of fun and I ended up dancing a lot. I was asked to dance several times, which I’m not used to and really do appreciate. I think it definitely boosted my confidence and I was willing to give the dances I didn’t know a go.
Every now and then, I did feel my shin hurting but I was having too much fun to care. By the end of the evening I had forgotten about it.
A lot of people at the dance were going to be leaving on the Sunday, so parting ways and saying goodbye and ‘see you next year’ at the end of the night felt very sad and very final. I did remember to tell Tony thank you for putting up with me with all the dancing before I headed back to my room to fall into bed.
It wasn’t until I was in my pjs that my leg started hurting again and I think it was a combination of that and suddenly being hit with the Post Event Blues, that made it difficult to get a decent sleep.
I opted for muggle clothes on Sunday as I was feeling really tired and my leg was hurting so wearing some flat shoes made sense. I started packing before heading down to the Victorian Precinct and a bit beyond to the Farmers Market.
I hadn’t been too sure how many people had decided to dress up for one last day, but there were a few. I successfully confused quite a few people while walking around because most of them have only ever seen me as a Victorian.
I was accidentally wandering around incognito 😂
I stopped in to visit the Waitaki Museum before it closed for the day. I hadn’t been inside since it got its makeover, and was curious to see what it now looked like. As I didn’t have a lot of time I jumped straight to the Victorian section.
There was less to see than I remembered, and the 1871 dress on display was definitely lacking a bustle support underneath but I felt too shy to ask about it or mention it at all. I think, being back in normal clothes made me feel like I didn’t look like someone who knew what they were talking about.
Some of the items on display or in the pull out drawers were interesting – mainly the dressmaking/sewing related items – but also the Oamaru North School dux medal (my great-grandfather missed out on dux by 2 places, and his brother got dux for his year at the same school).
I was back in my room by the time it started raining and I did a bit more packing before just chilling out and resting my leg. I started sorting through some of my photos, finding a few to keep and quite a few to delete (my camera has started throwing random fits and taking double exposures).
Maree and Scott and I went out for dinner at Scott’s Brewery and Theo slept through pretty much the whole thing. It was lovely being able to spend some more time with them before I had to leave, but hard to say goodbye (as it always is, every year).
By the time I was all packed and ready for bed that night I started feeling excited for next year’s Victorian Heritage Celebrations. I really and truly hope that next November’s events will all be full steam ahead. And that everyone is going to make the most of it after missing a year or experiencing the ‘diet version’ and that it will be bigger and better than ever.