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The Vesica Structures, created by Ukrainian Yelena Filipchuk and Canadian Serge Beaulieu, will be on display in Thames this November. Photo: SUPPLIED

New gold rush for Thames, but with a ‘punk twist’

“There are different types of gold.” 

For Steampunk the Thames committee president Caroline Thomas, there was an obvious choice for this year’s festival theme.

“Gold Rush” harks back to the town’s origins as a mining outpost for prospectors looking for their fortune, evoking images not only of nuggets in the minefields and sparkling jewellery adorning shopfronts, but also of black gold: the oil and coal which powered the industrial revolution so integral to steampunk’s aesthetic.

The theme is also an homage to Thames itself. The town was constituted as a borough in 1893 – 100 years ago this November – and Caroline said the committee wanted to celebrate that history. 

At the Gold Rush 2023 Steampunk Festival, then, punters looking for a good time will be spoilt for choice. 

“It’s an opportunity to adopt a persona that you probably wouldn’t have in everyday life,” Caroline said. 

“This year we had the opportunity to go even bigger.”

One of the major draws for this year’s festival is the Vesica Structures. The free art installation will be located outside the Bella St Pumphouse during the festival. 

Three of the patterned geometric structures were at last year’s festival. This year, however, the entire work, consisting of four smaller structures and one enormous one, will be displayed together for the first time in New Zealand. All will be brightly lit in the evenings, and Caroline said they were likely to be very popular. 

“The large one, which is called Deep Thought, has an opening which you can actually go inside,” Caroline said. 

“It will make for a great photo opportunity.”

Another new event is the introduction of dance classes in the afternoon before the Victorian Masked Ball. The ball itself is making a return after being on hiatus for a few years. 

“[Attendees will] be able to get the basics of the various types of dances we’ll be doing – a steampunk quadrille, a Spanish waltz, a two-step…” Caroline said. 

Also on offer over the weekend are the staple events the festival is known for, such as the steampunk parade, high tea, a rave at the Pumphouse, teapot racing, fashion show, and various markets and get-togethers. 

Caroline said the annual event should provide a welcome boost to Thames’ economy ahead of the summer. 

“It’s really quite fascinating. The wonderful array of costumes and getup that people have … for someone like me who’s relatively new to this, the amount of detail and time and effort that people put into producing their costumes [is] really quite amazing,” she said. 

“I would like to see more people get involved. Each year it’s been a reasonably small committee that’s been tasked with organising these things and it would be nice if there was some new blood coming along that had some new ideas. 

“This is a way for [people] to get away from their everyday existence and become someone totally different.” 

Gold Rush 2023 Steampunk Festival, November 9-12 in Thames. See for details. 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air