More than ‘a museum’

Whitestone City welcomes newcomers to Oamaru’s past, but Oamaru’s newest tourism attraction has also been designed with residents in mind.

Tourism Waitaki communications co-ordinator Lisa Smith says  Whitestone City, which opens this...
Tourism Waitaki communications co-ordinator Lisa Smith says Whitestone City, which opens this Sunday, will be a key attraction in Oamaru. Photo: Hamish MacLean.

The $600,000 Victorian-themed Tourism Waitaki and Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust project opens on Monday, after a free open day for the community on Sunday — and Tourism Waitaki communications co-ordinator Lisa Smith says the Harbour St take on historic Oamaru and North Otago is "an experience, not an attraction".

"It isn’t something just for people who aren’t from here. It is about Oamaru, it’s about our district, it is [about] us, and we hope to reflect that with what we’ve done here," she said.

"It is authentic but usable, because we didn’t want people to feel like they had to stand behind a roped-off area. The whole purpose was people were able to come along and be a part of the display instead of seeing a display ... It’s supposed to be fun."

Tourism Waitaki operations manager Wendy Simpson said the project team had "transformed" the building through "a whole nine months of hard work".

Visitors would enter from the service lane behind the historic building and make their way through the building, which featured a slice of life from the 1860s up to the 1950s, before exiting on to Harbour St.

The general store, barber shop, architect office, dispensary, dressing area, penny-farthing carousel and playground, agricultural area, bar and brothel, schoolroom and parlour contained some items that were donated or lent by residents.

Mrs Simpson lent a silver cutlery set, a gift from her parents on her 21st birthday, and a dinner set which is now on display in the Victorian parlour.

"There’s been a lot of stuff that’s been donated or lent to us from collectors right throughout the district. It’s amazing what people have stored away over the years," she said.

"The original vision has really transformed over time. As we built stuff we came up with new ideas and changed bits and pieces and added stuff. I’m so proud of what we’ve achieved.

"The idea here is to encourage people to explore what we have here, but also explore what we have throughout the district and the valley.

"It’s not just like a museum — you can come in and sit down, take part and enjoy it. It’s making history come to life."

The Victorian games, for example, were not just on display, and visitors would be encouraged to play them. Tourism Waitaki expected it to become one of the "key" visitor attractions in Oamaru.

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