Saturday, 13 June 2020

Stepping Back in Time- Oamaru

I've managed to come up for some air with a little free time to write a blog after spending the last few weeks buried in boxes, bags, bubble wrap & way too much gear that I was sure I thoroughly sorted out eight years ago! It is amazing how your priorities change after living full-time on the road, where life is much simpler and where you only have so much space to keep 'stuff'. It was a little over-whelming as I unpacked box after box, reacquainting myself with furniture & furnishings, trinkets & treasures from another life. Now to sort it all again; you wouldn't think I'd already halved the haul twice way back then.

And now to catching up on the blog. Again. November 2019 (seems a lifetime ago)

We were still staying at Glenavys Waitaki River Motor Camp and after ticking Riverstone Castle off our 'must visit' list we took some time out to visit Oamaru, 20kms south of Glenavy and check out several historic buildings that had been on my radar to visit but had always been closed when we passed by. 

The first was Totara Estate, a historic farm that had a significant role in making New Zealand what it is today. As an added bonus the volunteers on duty in the shop were in period costume (the reason will become obvious further down the page). 

Before I could explore the grounds I was directed to a small room at the end of the entrance building to watch a 10 minute introduction video on Totara Estate. I was itching to get out there and explore but I dutifully sat and saw it through to the end. If there had of been more people, I would have sneaked out before the volunteers spotted me. 

Farming began at Totara (south of Oamaru) in the 1850s. By the time the estate was purchased by the New Zealand & Australian Land Company in 1866 it covered almost 15,000 acres and farmed over 17,500 sheep, 200 cattle, and was purported to have the best wheat, potato and mangold (fodder beet) growing land in the country.

A downturn in wool prices combined with a nationwide over-supply of sheep meat saw the general manager of the Land Company, William Davidson, follow an ambition to be the first in New Zealand to use new steam-powered freezing technology to send meat to the other side of the world. 

And so it was, then, that the first ever shipment of frozen mutton made a three-month journey from New Zealand to England in 1882, launching an industry that brought success to Totara Estate and well beyond. By the end of the 1890s, New Zealand’s frozen meat industry was a powerful force – economically, politically and socially – and still earns billions in foreign earnings each year. 

I had a grim fascination with the description of the piggery beside the killing shed (having been brought up on a pig farm). Click the photo to read the gory details.

Our next stop was just down the road at the historic Clarks Flour Mill, built in 1866 and originally part of Totara Estate. Clarks Mill was one of 13 flour mills in North Otago District and the last one running, outliving all the others by 50 years by the time it ceased operation in 1976.

Since it's closure, the machinery inside, including a rare collection of roller milling machinery installed in 1893, has been fully restored to operating condition by a team of volunteers. The mill grinds into action on the last Sunday of each month, offering visitors the opportunity to see, hear and feel what it would have been like to work in the mill.

The imposing four-storey mill building was constructed in local limestone and is of a Scottish design.  Other highlights include the original water race, and the railway line built in 1877 to connect the mill to the main trunk line.  

The miller's house and a cottage are both also constructed from local stone. The small cottage is known as Smokey Joe’s and remains largely unaltered since it was built in 1860s. During the prohibition years the Clark family turned the cottage into a private hall for the locals to gather for a beer or two. 

Our next stop is back in Oamaru town at this lovely little cottage tucked away in a quiet back street. I wonder if you can guess who once lived here? (Before you scroll down the page). 

This modest house was once the home of internationally renowned New Zealand author, Janet Frame. Janet lived here with her parents from 1931 to 1943 (age 7 to 19).

I arrived during the afternoon opening hours which was more by luck than judgement. I paid the small entrance fee and stepped back in time wandering through the various rooms furnished with authentic furniture and objects from the time the Frames lived in the house. There are also several items referenced to Janet's work including her old typewriter.

It was a lovely surprise to hear the house fill with music which I traced it back to the lounge where the afternoon's volunteer was happily playing the piano.

Thanks to the period dressed volunteers at Totara Estate we were made aware of the annual Victorian Fete taking place in town at Oamaru's Victorian Precinct.  We missed the Grand Parade, but thoroughly enjoyed walking a couple of laps of the Precinct roads.

After several days of  Victorian Heritage Celebrations, the fete is an eagerly anticipated event with many people getting right into the spirit.....

......dressing up in Victorian costume, playing games and entering competitions and selling all manner of Victorian antiques, knick-knacks and clothing from the shops housed in the historic buildings & from the decorated stalls lining the Precinct streets.

I'll let the photos do the talking while I do the walking (I wonder what that guy behind is thinking?)....

I saw this group of children several times during the afternoon, on the last occasion the bonnet on the baby in the cart had slipped right over her face as she was being trundled down the cobbles at a fast rate of knots by one of the older children. I was worried she was going to topple out but she was holding on to the sides very tightly even though she couldn't see where she was going.

This crowd of people were being entertained by...

...a very colourful lady, who was judging 'The Victorian Beard & Moustache Competition'.

There were some amazing costumes although I'm sure a few people suffered under their heavy layers in the early summer sunshine.

Several unique antique vehicles were on display (and a lady on stilts). I was sure the three wheel vehicle was going to tip over. There was a fake cow with a rubber udder where you could try your hand at milking. And amongst the food stalls, a Southern classic- cheese rolls- were being sold from a pop-top VW Kombi.

Entertainers and stall holders included a puppeteer with Mr Bones...

...Morris Dancers, a shoe shine boy (who also wanted payment if you took a photo), a facepainter & balloon modeler, period costume family photos, Christchurch's Wizard (how did he get in on the act?) and a burlesque show.

Oamaru's more famous Steampunk genre was taking a backseat during the Victorian festivities although I did see several people dressed in a combination of both.

Steam Locomotive B10 operated by Oamaru Steam & Rail was running short trips from Harbourside Station around the harbour to the Blue Penguin Colony attraction and back again. 

I waited several times to catch it as it passed, finally deciding that you'd hardly notice that it is actually going in reverse here!

So all in all, we made up for lost time and managed to cram quite a bit of historic Oamaru into just one day.

If you notice a slight change in the layout of the blog (not a major one I hope), it's because Blogger have done an upgrade to the programme and this is the new format which is also meant to be mobile friendly. Please let me if there's anything unusual. 

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