OAMARU likes to think of itself as the “steam-punk” capital of the world. It certainly has plenty of the whitestone Victorian and Edwardian architecture needed for such a project. It has also made room for the requisite collection of amiable eccentrics and creatives required to flesh-out the standard steam-punk narrative. As harmless games of dress-up go, everything seemed quirkily benign.

But, that was before Covid.

Walking around the North Otago town’s “Victorian Precinct” in early January the anti-vaxxer vibe was unmistakable. It wasn’t just the signs welcoming “everyone” into the market stalls and boutiques that gave the anti-vax sentiment away, but the defiant stares their owners levelled at the tourists. Some of the retailers almost seemed to be daring the out-of-towners to make an issue of the fact that their QR codes had mysteriously gone missing.

Not that many visitors would have “made an issue” out of it – any more than a Springbok Tour protester would have “made an issue” of apartheid sport in a public bar back in 1981. Wrong place. Wrong sort of people.

Oamaru’s whitestone Precinct is an enclave for aging alternative life-stylers. The air is filled with the scent of patchouli and hand-crafted leather. There are troll figurines and fairies for sale, alongside crystals and dream-catchers.

In the North Otago artist Donna Demente’s “Grainstore Gallery” it is difficult to resist the whiff of magic that permeates not just her paintings and papier mâché sculptures, but all the weird and wonderful nineteenth and twentieth century bric-a-brac among which her artworks nestle. For all its steam-punk machinery, the Precinct smacks more of Pre-Raphaelite sorcery and enchantment than Victorian science.

Donna Demente’s Grainstore Gallery, Victorian Precinct, Oamaru.

The intrusion of QR codes and Vaccination Passes into this world was never going to be welcomed with open arms. Even among the vaccinated, one suspects, there would have been a strong sense of disappointment. Like when some kill-joy suddenly turns on the electric lights at an intimate candle-lit party.

Covid-19 must have burst into the Precinct with all the sensitivity of a drugs bust. Rules and regulations, masks and jabs, and precious little tolerance for those whose understanding of health and wellbeing embraces wholesome food, sunlight, and midnight swims with dolphins. The eccentric steam-punk scientists may have accepted the rationality of mass inoculation, but the hippies and herbalists clearly remained unconvinced.

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Magic only works in circumstances where people are willing to suspend their disbelief and set their imagination free. The possibility of catching a dangerous disease – even among the ornate “Oamaru stone” facades of the Precinct – is simply not conducive to turning-on, tuning-in, and dropping-out of the workaday world.

What Covid meant was that just about everybody suddenly stopped “playing”. The childlike wonder which had been the common currency among those who stepped across the invisible boundary separating twenty-first Oamaru from its nineteenth century forerunner was replaced with the impatience and intolerance of visitors determined to “stay safe”.

No wonder the aging hippies and herbalists, funky craftspeople, magical artists, and amateur baristas felt affronted and disrespected. No wonder some of them felt compelled to make a stand against the rules and regulations pouring out of Wellington.

And if the cotton-print stall-holders and bearded wood-carvers glared with barely concealed hostility at the loud and decidedly unenchanting Aucklanders – who could really blame them?


    • Quite so, Tony.

      They have settled in the little rural hamlets scattered along Highway One: Maheno, Herbert (where I grew up) Hampden, Moeraki, Palmerston, Waikouaiti, Waitati (where Metiria Turei lives). Twenty-five years ago you could pick up a residential property in these places for less than $75,000!

      In fairness to Oamaru, a town of around 13,000 people, the Precinct encompasses just a few streets down by the waterfront. Your typical Oamaruvian is pretty much indistinguishable from any other Kiwi. Hence the town’s very creditable vaccination rate.

            • What I was trying to imply was, perhaps the vaccine pass was the “stick” that forced wavering anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated so they could partake in “normal” life. Things like holding on to a job, boarding flights, going to a bar or restaurant, having a hassle-free holiday outside of Auckland, etc. Without the vaccine pass, maybe our vaccination rates wouldn’t be so high. Perhaps some that are vaccinated have done so out of necessity, not because they have “bought in” to the narrative.

              • So so true and certainly many have made their choice to get jabbed not through personal choice but from pressure of job keeping, mortgage paying, supporting their family… guilt and fear is how this has been marketed.. 2 jabs for Freedom..Untrue now its jab 3 and next it will be jab 4.. its great news to know people are staying true to themselves and their beliefs.. Pro choice not anti vaxxers

            • Facts please and state your sources would be appreciated

              When Omicron hits like it has in New South Wales, vaccine passports will be made redundant anyway. Everyone will get it. Toilet paper will be more valuable than the paper your vaccine passport is printed on.

              Our health system will be overwhelmed by the 10% unvaccinated and breakthrough cases of Omicron in the vaccinated. 11th January RNZ New South Wales’ Omicron outbreak sparks a de facto ‘lockdown’ (https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/459379/new-south-wales-omicron-outbreak-sparks-a-de-facto-lockdown)

              One News tonight 13th January has cases in NSW go from 35,000 yesterday to 92,000 today (mainly due to RAT recording online being added into the numbers).
              1 NSW’s ‘world class’ health system under pressure
              2 Public transport services reduced
              3 Supply chains disrupted, supermarket shelves remain bare.

              And what would David Seymour (ersatz leader of the opposition) suggest we do?
              And what is Chris Luxon suggest we do, apart from assembling his bbq and getting his designer gumboots designerly dirty?
              And what does Chris Bishop suggest we do, as he waits to be next Nat leader off the rank?

      • I have read about the restaurant Fleurs Place at Moeraki and also that she had to close for a while as the uppity staff wouldn’t get vaccinated. Perhaps they believe they are remote from the world and all its troubles there but their jobs and the restaurant rely on travellers, tourists particularly. She must feel filleted.

  1. We need more Chris: pockets of resistance in little ol’ New Zealand with a backstory. And written with humour. Gives those who refuse the jab a human face. Nothing wrong with that. The rest of us are doing very well, thanks.

  2. I love Oamaru and I love the free thinking characters who have the plums to keep on living their lives as they see fit to.

    How many active cases has Oamaru even got? So why the need for all these suffocating rules and punishments ?

    • xstraight etc maybe Oamaru has something in common with the rest of the country in that its low rate of Covid cases is due to rules and regulations brought in by a sensible government?

      • It seems to be inevitable that the Omicron variant will sooner or later break through MIQ so looking at what is happeneing in countries like South Africa, Uk, Australia, US, with cases increasing rapidly and then falling rapidly with less hospitalisations and deaths compared to previous waves the question is: are we going to try to stay in isolation till all the pandemia has changed into endemia round the world and experience the break through afterwards with increasing cases etc. or are we going to open our borders now with our high rate of vaccination and in summer time let the Omicron have its way.

      • Then how come all or most the cases lately have been at events where you had to be vaccinated to get it like music festivals?

      • at what cost though? Jobs lost, delayed cancer screening, depression, suicide, societal upheaval etc etc

        it’s not as clear cut as you make out

        fact is the Government had a huge head start when it came to dealing with the virus but didn’t have the initiative to take advantage of it. The same will happen with omricorn

    • straight – because on this occasion a few hippy hipster dopeheads happen to agree with your arse about face rightwing ideology….wait until you hear what they say on gender self identification and pushbikes, you won’t be so keen on the hipsters then son….but hey when your ideology is sinking fast a rightard will grab any straw no matter how flimsy…how are the dick pills and piss drinking going for you?

  3. The rural areas of NZ are not so prone to propaganda, and they tend to think for themselves, so they can see pass media spin…look at Northland.
    The Government hates that, see how they handled Northland…how many Covid cases in Northland in the last week = 0 cases

      • I am truly sad to read this Shona…it feels like the Government’s revenge against Northland for the PM getting shamed in Northland by 3 protestors

        • Or maybe, Northland has the worst vaccine rates in the country, hence being the only area in Red at the moment. Northland is the only DHB yet to hit the 90% mark for single-doses, the worst rates for Maori vaccination whether the measure is first- or double-dosed. The same applies to non-Maori, despite passing the 90% mark for single doses, and being one of only two (West Coast 89.57%) who have yet to reach 90% double-dosed.

          It isn’t about the the three who protested ( including the American and the warbling, baby-swinging wahine), it’s because vaccination rates are poor.

          • Why was the West Coast not in placed in the red column again?

            Could it be the Lockdown Queen received hugs on the Coast after the Westport flood, while getting shamed in Northland…both DHBs have very similar vaxx rates.

            • I’m guessing it is due to Northland having the lowest vaccination rates in the country, and because it shares a direct border with Auckland which was the centre of the current outbreak. The accessibility to Northland from Auckland, and the potential volume of travel, presented a higher risk. Also, when the call was made for our current settings (13th Dec), Northland had around 30 active cases in the community. The West Coast had zero.

              Maybe Ardern is being vindictive. I’m just not getting that vibe.

              • Again, great points DX5…sadly, the NZ Government has stated they placed Northland in the red column due to low rates of vaxx, so why not the West Coast as well.
                Also, the area around Gisborne vaxx rates are not great either, so why not them too into the red column?
                Both the Coast, and the Gisborne areas are being treated far better than Northland…and that’s crap!

    • More rubbish. Try getting into a shop without a mask in rural Taranaki. You will be shown the door, empty handed.

      • What is rubbish Green Bus?
        – That rural NZ thinks for itself?…that’s true, they do think for themselves…
        Here’s a question for all of you…what happens after the Covid scare?
        Those no mask, no service people are going to stuffed in small town NZ

        • Yes, it means somebody infected with one of the most infectious diseases in recent history has been walking around the location, interacting with unknown people.

          • Nope, location of interest is…if they believe someone MIGHT be infectious was in the location….using that logic, most of NZ could be locations of interest… including Parliament

    • That could be because no one in their right mind would want to go to Northland at the moment and be close to a group of angry anti vaxers at a road block . I feel sorry for the hard working business people trying to make a dollar when they are surrounded by nohoppers .

      • Funny the lack of “group of angry anti vaxers at a road block in Northland” stories in the past weeks? Is that because it’s a myth?

        Some I’ve talked to recently who’ve travelled to Northland would say that.

        • I’d attest to that. Was in Kawakawa, Pihia and Kerikeri last week and saw nothing. Nor on a day trip to Te Ngarere Bay. Mind you, Pihia and Kerikeri are enclaves and Kawakawa a small town doing its best to leverage off the tourist trade. Might be road blocks and anti-vaxxers further north but I doubt it.

  4. Perhaps Oamaru needs to read this?
    The Guardian.
    “My wife had long Covid and killed herself. We must help others who are suffering”
    “Long Covid doesn’t come for you all at once; instead, with methodical precision, it slowly robs you. Heidi lost her mobility and her ability to eat. She was a lifelong avid reader but the brain fog (better thought of as cognitive dysfunction) robbed her of the ability to retain information. Even urinating and eventually, and cruelly, sex became painful. Long Covid seemed to steal every part of her life that made it worth living.”
    Think of long covid as a kind of viral neoliberalism.

  5. Fucking hippies. Total suckers for disinformation from American billionaires. E.g. Natural News – used to be a hippy backwater thing, natural remedies etc, but was taken over by Uber-wealth right wing nutters in the US and weaponised slowly to support Trump, push hard-right wing memes, and anti-covid and anti-vax lies.
    We’re seeing this now in NZ with the ‘freedom’ movement taking dark money from the US, and these hippies are the vanguard of spreading these lies as they lost their critical faculties years ago in a druggie haze.

    • spot on nuke, though it is interesting our govt says and does nothing about this foreign subversion..oh well guess there’s no US puppy dog brownie points in it.

      • unlike shafting assange and dotcom(loathsome but victimised) but welcoming the ex-US stooge the former vice-prez of afganistan, plenty of brownie points in that….

        once again NZ saves western civilisation — HUZZAH!!

    • I read the link you had there @nukefacts and thanks for sharing it.

      Finally, getting to see that these misinformation rabidholes are politically motivated by the likes of Adams and Willis. Time to hunt down the rest of the co-conspirators of lies and charge them with manslaughter. The families of antivaxxers who beg for vaccinations on their deathbeds, need a class action lawsuit against these purveyors of lies.

      Michelle Spence, the ICU nurse unit manager at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, was visibly emotional as she detailed otherwise fit and healthy people deteriorating after contracting COVID-19.

      “One of the saddest things I’ve seen over the last few weeks is people wanting the vaccination just before we put them on a life support machine,” she said.

      “That is the absolute truth. I’ve seen it myself. They’re begging for the vaccination.

      • If people want to get vaccinated they should go for it but punishing people who choose not to (for whatever reason) is tyrannic.

        The Mocking those who strive for personal freedom and autonomy is disturbing on so many levels as well.

        Does the state even have the right to know your medical status when it comes to vaccines? Not in my world it doesn’t.

        It’s such a weird time: the previously freedom loving left are embracing tyranny, censorship and punishment while the erstwhile dictatorial right now look like the champions of freedom.

      • I’ve always regarded “rabbit hole”* as a wholly inappropriate term for the maelstrom of lies that the modern disinformation vortexes are.
        These networks and algorithms ruthlessly suck in and exploit people with weak critical thinking skills. “Rabbit hole” as a description is way too benign.

        * I’m assuming it’s based on Alice’s entry route into Wonderland.

  6. easy peasy, avoid the place, don’t spend there and watch their rinky dink hobby businesses fold..

    actions have consequences….like covid sweeping through and taking the unvaxxed, ironically or appropriately just like cholera did in victorian london..how’s that for real time roleplay numpties?

    • I was looking at a graph of covid hospitalisations and the amount of vaxed and unvaxed was pretty much the same.

      • straight produce and post the graph or citation from a reliable scientist/expert, your assertion contradicts all others….s–t or get off the pot.

  7. I’m enjoying these articles pointing out the fact that it is the “anti-establishment” people who are often most common amongst anti-vaxers. While around 90 percent of adult New Zealanders are now vaxed, about half, if not more, of the people I personally know are anti-vaxers. The total number would be around 25 to 30. They include visual artists, musicians, homeopathy practioners, evangelical Christians, health food enthusiasts, ageing hippies, conspiracy theorists, pilates practioners, Maori separatists, anti-1080 people, and a lot more. It would be interesting to create a graph of some sort and see how many of the same boxes they tick. If someone is anti-1080 for instance, I think there is a high likelihood that they are also anti vaxers. Generally speaking, these are the “intelligensia” of anti-establishment movements in New Zealand today. My view of anti-1080 people, which I think applies to anti-vaxers too, is that they represent the intellectual bankruptcy of what remains of the 1960s and 1970s anti-establishment movement. What was in its youth a vital movement for progressive change is now – now that much of the movement’s goals have been achieved – just a rump of not overly intelligent, or perhaps more accurately logical-thinking, people, as the anti-vaxers I personally know are quite intelligent.

      • I’ve always been part of what you would call the “anti-establishment” movement. Born in 1958, I’m part of the second generation of baby-boomers who came of musical age when David Bowie was taking the place of the Beatles. My natural sensibility has always been to challenge the establishment and I think I remained true to this cause all though the 1980s when this was particularly difficult to do. By the 1990s, the mainstream establishment of my parent’s generation was getting old and what had seemed to be the anti-establishment and still thought of it as so, was actually becoming the establishment. Time magazine ran a very good article on this in the early 1980s titled “Everyone’s hip and that ain’t cool” which pointed out that everyone was taking on the costume, so to speak, of being hip and cool – what has today become the hipster movement which can be found in cities all around the world from Wellington to Portland, Oregon, and everyone listening to Led Zeppelin. That said, the anti-vax people I personally know tend to be ageing first or second generation baby boomers. I think it is quite possible to remain an anti-establishment person at the same time as support everyone getting vaccinated. Vaccinations are a health issue, whereas being anti-establishment is about looking at new ways of living socially, politically and ecologically. And it is also quite possible to experience the magic of an imaginative alternative world, at the same time as taking the practical step of getting vaccinated. Music, art etc are the realms of the mind. I can quite easily go from the magical realm of my own art in my own gallery while making sure I wear a mask, having the QR code displayed, and am vaccinated. To me that is the middle ground.

        • the eternal problem is young people always think a haircut or a pair of trousers is a radical position that will change/shock/awe the oldies..I know I did…but it’s just another Che Guevara t-shirt in the long run.

    • There always will be people who say “no”, especially when they feel coerced by the dominant discourse to say “yes”. Perhaps its a certain kind of person, someone who pushes back on a good many things. And lets be honest, there is a lot of shit happening that is worth pushing back on. But it can become a lifestyle choice. Perhaps its a personaility trait. No doubt it will become a PhD project for someone interested in getting some answers.

  8. Don’t worry. This whole thing is coming apart at the wheels in record fashion. I’d be surprised if anyone is still being coerced into vaccination in just a few months time. All we really need is for the WHO and/or CDC to declare what everyone with working brain cells already knows: that CoVID-19 is endemic.
    We can’t “booster” our way out of this, since they’re already admitting that doing so will be detrimental to your immune system.

  9. Chris, I find this richly ironic. I departed Bowalleyroad because I’d drawn a line at anti vaxxer hostility and pro vax authoritarianism. Worse the parroting of the official line with no examination of the facts and stats, the intolerance to debate, the cognitive dissonance.

    For the record Im double vaxed. I wont be getting a booster. And vaxing children with this failed experimental gene therapy is a step too far.

  10. Heh, had a look at on my iPad at the lay of the land down in those there parts, which I have not been to since the 60s–and lo and behold there is a “Mount Trotter”! amongst the Herberts and Hampdons.

    Sod the steam punk ethos anyway in my view, sweaty bearded bald bastards on a good day.

  11. I ran an IT course some years ago at which a well-attired gent from Oamaru attended. His arm was in plaster and on enquiry he said that he broke his arm falling of his Penny Farthing.

    I’m getting more attracted to these types by the day. Diversity, non-conformist anti-authoritarian and having a romantic affair with another era

  12. Did a trip around the South in August, impressed with the architecture in Oamaru, a lot of old colonial companies with their names stencilled above the doors, back in the day they would have done well. First time there, Loved the town, had a good look around the old area, was informed by one of the locals (an ex Jaffa who after establishing that we were from Northland) that it was very racist down here & be careful what you say to whom etc, was surprised as it does not show that to the average punter!

  13. ..precious little tolerance for those whose understanding of health and wellbeing embraces wholesome food, sunlight
    That reminds me of a scene the other day. One of our eccentrics declaiming to the librarian requesting her to put on a mask before she entered, about how she had always lived a healthy life etc… It’s all about ‘me’ with these people, not about us, and about bending their proud righteous individuality in the face of the relentless invisible ‘bogle’.

  14. I’m interested to know if Chris asked the ‘All Together Oamaru’ sign holders (welcoming all signs he mentions) why they had them and their position. He would have likely found a different story than that mentioned in this article. The current situation with vaccine passports has affected those whom have had vaccine issues with their first jab as well as those whom have chosen not to get it. And vaccine exemtions are not readily avaliable to those whom have had these reactions, even when medically valid (under advise of specilists). As far as I am aware most if not all of the ” hippies and herbalists, funky craftspeople, magical artists, and amateur baristas” are fully vaccinated, and the welcome all is to support there loyal customers and community in a difficult situation because of political decisions, not medical grounds.

  15. As one of the artists tarred with your generalising and pretty insulting brush, I wish to clarify that myself and many other business owners in this area are vaccinated and display QR codes, and for the sake of the wellbeing of our fellow humans are compliant with the regulations around hosting of events etc

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