Cholmondeley and I made the very wise decision over this last weekend to take a small trip to the South Island of New Zealand to catch the very final day of the “STEAMPUNK: Tomorrow As It Used To Be” exhibition in Oamaru. We had read in several places the exhibition was well worth a visit, including Brass Goggles, BoingBoing and Greg Broadmore’s blog; anyone familiar with Dr Grordbort’s Infallible Aether Oscillators would surely sit up and take notice when their creator says “Christ, if you just like rad shit, and you live up the way in Wellington or Auckland you should get down there!”
So, what did we think of Oamaru? Well, take this as a first impression. Below is what you see on your way into town, alerting you that you are about to enter a very special dimension:
Well, I have to say - the town makes a bold boast - but it certainly does deliver.
Oamaru is, quite frankly, extraordinary. On doing post-trip research, I am not surprised to find this sentiment echoed passionately in blogs and news articles - and it’s no surprise when one learns that Oamaru houses more heritage buildings than ANY other town in New Zealand: quite amazing given it is a small town of little over 12,000 inhabitants!
The architecture has been preserved in much the same way Budapest has been preserved - by serendipitous neglect. During years that many edifices of Victorian architecture around NZ (and the world) were torn down to make way for the new, Oamaru slumbered, waiting for its time to return to glory.
Now most historical buildings have been earthquake strengthened and are being refurbished and repopulated with artists, small quirky shops and a real sense of community, opportunity and excitement. Walking through the Historical District is quite literally like stepping back in time 100 years - never in my life before have I felt so transported to Victorian times.
Such a setting is a perfect backdrop for Steampunk, not least because Oamaru’s history is so fascinating and gritty. A fascinating brief account can be read here. While Oamaru does boast a world class Opera House and many fine buildings of classical stature, in many ways it is the rough area of town that has the most draw, character, and steampunk feel.
There really is a tremendous feeling of possibility here, and the residents of Oamaru are fully immersed in this world, and running with it in the most incredible way.
But I digress. We went down for the Exhibition, and it was indeed the highlight of the trip. We were met just inside the door by Patrick Simmerin’, a most genial and friendly fellow and representative of the League of Victorian Imagineers (the exhibition organisers), who encouraged us to wander and wonder, and take our time perusing the wonderful steampunk creations on display. And many there were - I couldn’t possibly list all of them here, so many took our fancy, and we encourage you to view the full gallery, which has been wonderfully photographed and documented on the Imagineers’ website here.
Not only inside the gallery, but also outside there were fantastic public art pieces, the most visible and impressive being the steam train bursting from the main road right in front of the gallery! Late evening and into the night the train ran special sound, lighting and steam effects. A very impressive display indeed.
We were very fortunate to have Patrick as a tour guide throughout Oamaru for an afternoon after visiting the exhibtion, too. Our first stop was to visit an upcoming work in progress: an amazing 3 metre high robot built entirely of spare car parts, the brainchild (errr, literally!) of Iain Clark (aka Agent Darling), a local jeweller of exquisite skill and Chief Imagineer. We were highly impressed by Iain’s beautiful works in the exhibition: incuding his very detailed steampunk USB drives, which are truly world class objects d’Art!
Patrick then led us about the historical quarter, dropping in on various shops and artist studios, not least of all Professor Damotimus’ Libratory: a cornucopia of wonderous things, and a relatively new addition to Oamaru’s steampunk community.
Unfortunately the good Professor was not in to greet us but Patrick amply sufficed and showed us the marvels. We expect the Libratory to grow ever more filled with wonders.
Of course no visit to Oamaru would be complete without stopping in at the Oamaru Cycle Works! I had never seen so many penny farthing bicycles in one place, and they even have a time travelling one I now proudly own a pair of their gorgeous earrings, which are fully articulated, and purchasable only from the OOCC.
We had a few more stops before heading back to the exhibition for a couple of photo ops, ably organised by La Falconesse, which resulted in some very lovely press, as shown in our previous post, but also made the Otago Daily Times!
As noted in the Otago Daily Times, we are also hoping to bring several artworks from the Oamaru exhibtion across for Euchronia as part of our exhibiton for the event, full details of which shall be available very soon!
There’s so much more I would love to convey about Oamaru, and our magnificent day there, but I fear I may exhaust the less hardy of you, and would like to subsequently direct attention to the extensive Flickr Gallery we have created of our trip, and invite you to visit Oamaru yourself at it is very much worth the effort. We are already planning our next trip, for the 2011 Steampunk Fashion Show on June 5th, 2011, for which tickets will be available very soon! In the meantime, our sister leagues of the ALTV and the Imagineers plan to crosspromote wherever possible across the Tasman and the Antipodes!