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One of Paula’s previous steampunk costumes was made mostly from window mesh, apart from the corset. She has an entire wardrobe planned for this year’s festival. Photo: SUPPLIED

Clothed in fantasy for a weekend of escapism 

This weekend, steampunk attendees may be forgiven for doing a double-take when they spot Paula Munro. 

The steampunk aficionado will be pulling a chameleon act – and with no less than eight outfits prepared for the upcoming four-day Gold Rush Steampunk Festival, she’s embracing every possible interpretation of the theme. 

“I’ve got a costume for every event,” Paula laughed. 

“We’ve got the meet and greet, high tea, quiz night, parade, rave, ball, and then I’ve got a couple of spares just in case anything goes wrong or it’s too hot … It can be pretty cumbersome wearing so many dresses and skirts.” 

Paula has been captivated by the steampunk scene for half a decade.

“I saw some ladies in Pirongia dressed in steampunk,” she said. 

“Then I did a lot of costume making, hat making and sold them to [Steamy Sisters]. It just sort of snowballed from there.”

Her fascination with steampunk persisted – to the point where she joined the Steampunk the Thames committee, despite ongoing health issues.

“I broke my back and I’ve had seven spinal injuries,” she said. 

“I’m in pain every day … it’s how much it fills my cup whether or not I do something. I know with steampunk I’m going to be suffering but that’s okay because I’ll get a lot out of it.”

Paula will be attending the festival as her alter-ego, Polly Gone.

“Heaps of people know me as Polly,” she said. 

“[And] I’ve been so busy during steampunk. You turn around and I’m gone, fixing something else up, directing traffic or whatever.”

Polly will be splendidly attired, no matter which part of the event she’s at. Paula has been putting her costumes together for the better part of a year, haunting op shops, trading pieces with friends and utilising her costumier skills. 

“Most of my costumes are made of recycled or upcycled things, [and] I’m recycling a few costumes this year, just because I haven’t had as much time,” she said. 

“Some of them I’ve made a bit more old-fashioned… some are punk but kept in the realms of ‘I’m a gold-miner’s widow’ or something like that. And some of them are just completely off topic.”

The variety in acceptable attire is one of Paula’s favourite things about the fantasy genre. 

“I like the punk aspect of it. [But] it’s not straight and narrow – you’ve got steam, punk, you’ve got your Victorian era … you can go right back to mediaeval if you want,” she said.

“It’s past, present and future, so you can really make it what you want to, there’s no real restraint.”

And come this weekend, Paula is looking forward to a bit of escapism. 

“I’m still me, I’m just dressed up and not really caring about anything else that’s going on in the world,” she said.

“You’ve got the opportunity to be a kid again if you want, be someone completely different for the day. It’s all about imagination and fun. And who doesn’t love putting on something that makes them feel really pretty or handsome?”

Details: Gold Rush Steampunk Festival, November 9-12 in Thames. See for more. 

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