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Yesterday, the town’s Victorian precinct was formally recognised as part of the Otago Landmarks Whenua Tohunga programme, a wider and joint initiative between the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Department of Conservation and Heritage New Zealand.
Twelve "significant" Otago landmarks in the Otago Landmarks Whenua Tohunga, including the Victorian precinct, were announced by Dunedin North MP David Clark in December.
A similar initiative was launched to recognise nine landmarks in Northland in 2016.
Otago Landmarks Whenua Tohunga documentation described the precinct as a "Victorian time capsule".
"This atmospheric area of ornately carved stone buildings tells of Victorian hopes and dreams during the late 19th century. Visitors can walk in and around well-preserved buildings that housed merchant and engineering enterprises, grain stores and banks. Victorian wardrobe hire and regular heritage events enable visitors to relive this era."
Those hopes and dreams and scenes that depicted Oamaru’s early economic and social development were acted out on stage at yesterday’s function at Whitestone City in Harbour St.
Sarahann Du Plooy played the role of Hope, joined by Mike Gray as a travelling swagger and Don Speden as several characters, including former Oamaru mayor and member of Parliament for Waitaki and Oamaru Samuel Shrimski, who held office in the 1870s and 1880s.
Heritage New Zealand deputy chief executive Nicola Jackson said the precinct was New Zealand’s finest example of an "intact Victorian precinct" and praised its authenticity and the events held there, such as the Victorian fete each November as part of the town’s Victorian heritage celebrations.
"The activities are bringing this area to life. You’re not just looking at a bunch of buildings, you’re looking at the life of a town and can really feel that history."
Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher said the recognition was an important "step forward" for Oamaru and would help achieve the town’s ultimate goal of gaining more formal Heritage New Zealand recognition.
"The next stage for us, really, is going for the national heritage landmarks and that’s something that’s more prestigious. We’re keen to do that and we’re talking to Heritage New Zealand about that process. It’s seen by Heritage New Zealand as the gateway to world heritage status."