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With a theme of ''Upstairs, Downstairs'', the annual tribute to all things Victorian celebrates both guttersnipes and landed gentry this year, Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations chairwoman Diane Lee said.
The five days of festivities, beginning today, include a suffrage meeting; a night of burlesque, circus and comedy; a temperance benefit ball; Saturday's street parade and penny-farthing races; a poetry slam; and a Victorian fashion parade.
Out-of-towners were already arriving, she said.
The Victorian Fete, on Sunday, the final day of the heritage celebrations, was also the biggest day of the year for the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust, Fete co-ordinator Frances McMillan said.
For her, the sights of elaborate costumes, stone-sawing, gurning and beard and moustache competitions were eclipsed by the sounds of Oamaru's pre-eminent street festival.
Music at the fundraiser for the restoration and preservation of the trust's Victorian buildings in Oamaru's heritage quarter must ''carry well, to cover over thousands of people''.
''If you're near the stage you need to be able to dance if you want - the number of children that dance on fete day is amazing,'' Ms McMillan said.
''That's my 'number one', to have people dancing and to have [music] carry across the precinct.''