3 October 2023

Travel back in time to immerse yourself in a whimsical vibe down by the riverside

| John Thistleton
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two people in fancy dress costumes

Getting into an imagined character can be lots of fun at the Steampunk Victoriana Fair at Goulburn Historic Waterworks. Photo: DTC Photography.

When Goulburn museum officer Julianne Salway was holidaying in the United Kingdom a few years ago, a photograph caught her eye.

Always enthralled with old waterworks, Julianne was looking at the Kew Bridge Pumping Station in West London (since rebranded as the London Museum of Water and Steam) when she spotted the photograph of a steampunk ball. A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology, steampunk works best around historic waterworks.

Seeing that photo, Julianne thought: “Oh, I like the sound of that, that looks amazing, we could have that in Goulburn. The idea was to bring a different group of people to the waterworks.”

READ ALSO Goulburn Historic Waterworks well oiled for posterity

Returning to Goulburn, she shared her idea with her fellow Goulburn Mulwaree Council events team. With minimal funds, the council added a steampunk theme to its upcoming steaming day at the waterworks in 2014 to see how it was received. More than 250 people came. That number doubled the following year and doubled again a year later. At this year’s Steampunk Victoriana Fair on 14 and 15 October, organisers are expecting at least 3000 people.

Julianne is the fair’s coordinator. The council brings a mix of professional steampunk and Victoriana entertainers who in turn attract enthusiasts from as far afield as Darwin, Tasmania and, closer to home, Sydney, the Blue Mountains, Newcastle and Canberra.

Returning this year will be street entertainers The Brass Harpies from Melbourne and Traralgon, Victoria, who perform under the names of Hepzibah, Abigail and Millicent. They will judge the costumes and can’t wait to return to the gorgeous riverside setting.

three women in fancy dress costumes

The Brass Harpies will judge this year’s costume parade at the Steampunk Victoriana Fair. Photo: The Brass Harpies.

“We really liked the fact that when we walked in there we felt immediately at home surrounded by people completely uninhibited about dressing up in all sorts of whimsical and fun steampunk costumes,” the trio’s spokeswoman Tracey Roberts said.

“It was really a joyful sort of vibe because everybody was excited to see what everybody was wearing and how they were strolling around and having a great old time.

“The markets were great, and the teapot-racing event was hilarious. We laughed and laughed. We had a wonderful time, actually.”

The Brass Harpies formed five years ago after one of them, having already discovered the joy of dressing up, hosted a party.

“We went to her place and decided to dress up and sort of got hooked on it,” Tracey said. “We felt really great when we started wearing all the outfits and enjoyed the whimsical element of it as well and the fact you could wear whatever you liked in that Victorian genre and all sorts of bits and pieces to create whimsical fun costumes.

”It was great for our self-esteem, we laughed a lot. We decided it would be fun to keep doing it at various festivals and events.”

READ ALSO Why Pomeroy Mill stood idle west of Goulburn since the 1870s

With a graceful 1883 Appleby Beam engine and a Hick Hargreaves Corliss valve steam engine going, and extravagant costumes flowing alongside the river, it’s easy to fall into the steampunk’s science-fiction world and let your imagination loose.

“Our biggest attraction is, we have a real mermaid coming with her own tank. She is a steampunk mermaid,” Julianne said, almost straight-faced.

Twenty market stores in keeping with the steampunk theme, and 12 food stalls, will be in full swing.

“It’s a bit different to your markets in Belmore Park,” Julianne said. “They are more in keeping with the steampunk theme. We have had stallholders coming back since the beginning and they do really well.”


Marsden Weir, Goulburn, has all the mystique and history to set the scene for a steampunk celebration. Photo: DTC Photography.

Julianne said favourite characters and events would be returning, including penny-farthing rider John Kitchen from Bathurst and tea and parasol duels. Old-school rock and blues band Sideshow Annie will be performing and The New Empire Ragtime Dance Orchestra from the Central Coast, a 16-piece orchestra, will play music from the late 1800s to the 1920s.

This year’s Steampunk Victoriana Fair will take place on 14 and 15 October at Goulburn Historic Waterworks, Marsden Weir Fitzroy Street, Goulburn. Be early if you plan to park along Fitzroy Street, or catch the shuttle bus from the Civic Centre car park. More details can be found via Humantix.

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