In 1987 a small group of individuals worked with the former Oamaru Borough Council
(since amalgamation, the Waitaki District Council) to obtain funding for a feasibility
study into the possible redevelopment of the original commercial and business district
of Oamaru's Harbour and Tyne Streets. The buildings consisted of large grain warehouses
which had served the prosperous agricultural sector of the district during the later
part of the 19th century. Following the recommendations of the Arthur Young Feasibility
Study the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was established as a charitable trust.
The feasibility study remains the cornerstone of the Trust's long term strategic
vision for the Historic Precinct and the Trust's 2009-2014 Strategic Plan has cemented
those early ideas into its vision as: Preserving and developing New Zealand's most
unique collection of historic buildings into a living 'Victorian Town at Work'.
With a grant from the Alexander McMillan Trust, the Trust acquired eight buildings
in 1989 and has today increased the number of buildings it owns to seventeen - fifteen
in the Historic Precinct and the Oamaru Railway Station in Humber Street and Meldrum’'s
Bakery in Usk Street. Restoration, structural strengthening and the installation
of sprinkler systems have enabled the buildings to be tenanted with a variety of
traditional businesses which follow the Victorian theme.The Victorian Town at Work
committee (VTAW) was established as a sub-committee of the Trust to help promote
Victorian Oamaru both within the Waitaki District and in neighbouring towns. It organises
the Victorian Fete which is the grand finale to Oamaru's Victorian Heritage Celebrations
held each November.
Another VTAW initiative is the Victorian Wardrobe. The Wardrobe is a wonderful collection
of replica Victorian costumes which are hired for Victorian themed events and festivals.
The Trust continues to work to preserve Victorian Oamaru's Historic Precinct and
has made significant progress in achieving its aims and objectives.
The Victorian Town at Work theme for Victorian Oamaru has seen the recreation of
many traditional crafts and pastimes of the 1880s so it isn't unusual to see a penny
farthing on the street, or a coracle being paddled in the harbour or a Victorian
gentleman doffing his hat as a lady passes by.
The Criterion Hotel. Built in 1877.
Forrester and Lemon’s first grain store built in 1875 for A.H. Maude. It is unusual
in the Historic Precinct in that it is built of local greystone rather than the white
By 1880 Oamaru, with a population of 5000, was as big as Los Angeles at that time.
However,the boom times for the town gave way to a depression that dragged on through
the late 1880’s and early 1900s. The fortunate outcome of this was that, for the
most part the existing buildings remained. In fact, if an Oamaruvian from 1900 was
transported into the Historic Precinct today they could easily find their surroundings
Thus we have been bequeathed a unique inheritance, one which the Civic Trust is
ensuring will be passed on to future generations.