The steamier side of life

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Imagine joining parallel 19th Century, where steam-power, pseudo-science, and mega engineering shaped the future.

It’s a place where cunning rules and style is everything. It’s STEAMfesta!

In 2019, event organisers looked at Maryborough’s Historic precinct with fresh eyes, discovering the perfect place to host STEAMfesta was at Queens Park.

There are canons, steam trains, fountains, and even a Judges Walk.

If you’re a fan of shows like Carnival Row, Penny Dreadful, or ‘Wild Wild West’ the chances are that you’ve already got the mental picture of stunning costumes and eccentric inventions in epic proportions.

It’s likely you will see visitors wearing contemporary street fashion, Burlesque, goth and vampire-inspired costumes to wacky contraptions.

Co-founder Maggie John said the event was first held in 2019 to attract tourism to one of Queensland’s oldest cities.

“We’ve again cracked open the archives, and liberally sprinkled it with modern creativity to recreate this period at the second annual STEAMfesta event in Queens Park, on Saturday, June 26 – a festival that celebrates Steampunk and Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math (S.T.E.A.M),” she said.

2019’s STEAMfesta was a magnificent success with Maryborough claiming the world record for the largest Steampunk gathering with 236 people attending in costume with a further 600 or so joining the fun.

“A number of years ago my husband and I were talking about tourism, community development and the woes of the region in the aftermath of the GFC,” Maggie said.

“Looking at what we have and what was already being promoted (Heritage City) and thinking how to get everyone involved in a fun way, Steampunk just seemed to tick all the boxes.

“It was when Roger (husband) introduced me to Jenny Elliott that an event seemed possible, and the three of us managed to pull together STEAMfesta 2019.”

“The thing I like most about this genre is that the heroes in this preferred reality are tradesmen, scientists, explorers, and engineers.

“Soldiers, lords, countesses, and harlots, still make their mark in the history books but somehow there is still a place for cricket and good manners!”

Maggie said the event showcases Maryborough’s fantastic heritage buildings, museums, engineering, and train building skills to the world, and offers a fun and alternate way for youth to delve into history.

It also has a major focus on photography, with clubs from Gympie to Bundaberg invited to attend.
“If you do not want your photograph taken (posted/published) then this event may not be for you,” Maggie said.

“It is for those who enjoy showing their steampunk finery to the world, an excuse for theatrical creativity and outrageous boasting!

“The steampunk community is quite close but very welcoming, and when we went for the world record in 2019, we had messages from as far away as the UK.”

Maggie and the team’s vision are to incorporate STEAMfesta with a full week of S.T.E.A.M workshops, where students from all over the world could attend.

She believes the Brolga would also be an ideal location for one of the international BattleBot or Robowars rounds, if held on the same weekend as STEAMfesta.

The options are endless, Maggie said.

“What I love most about STEAMfesta is the potential,” Maggie said.

“I can visualize international study tours, with the children boarding a steam train in Brisbane all in costumes complete with black capes, heading for the Fraser Coast to join in the technology workshops located at one of our beautiful historic buildings.

“Just imagine the photos they will be sending home! Having worked with study tours and international education for five years I think this would be an easy sell and make for great international TV coverage.”

Since the event’s inception, the organisers have held costume and steampunk craft classes to demonstrate how to create costumes from bits you are likely to have at home.

Maggie said they were so popular that the attendees started a monthly makers group at the new Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Hive on the first Thursday of every month, as part of the Local Learning Network program delivered by the HBNC.

The session runs from 6pm to 8pm for the small cost of a gold coin.

“There you get to meet with a wide range of enthusiasts from those learning to 3D print to costume makers.

“In between we have steampunk crafts and a couple of new members keen to build some very strange looking motor bikes.

“We would like to attract makers, shed potterers and inventors of character from across the region in the pursuit of new ideas, wacky contraptions, and entertainment … all whilst sharing skills.”

STEAMfesta is a family-friendly event where those who have been working hard on an outfit can dress up and join in, or others can just admire those who do.

“I also love the fact that you can join in STEAMfesta with whatever part you feel is fun for you,” Maggie said.

“If you are a photographer – it’s an amazing day.

“If you love engineering history or vintage cars, we have you covered.

“If you are into new technology like 3D printing and mechatronics/robotics, programming Arduino boards, there are workshops for you and monthly makerspace meetings.

“There are more facets to this than I can put in words and many levels too.

“At the base level, just come along and have a fun picnic in the park.

“Next level; get into your costume and help to create a tourist attraction by looking awesome … yes, by dressing up you are helping to attract people to the Fraser Coast.”

There will be a free ride on the Mary Ann steam train for each person who registers, and the organisers encourage guests to bring a picnic.

All the fun starts at 11am in and around Queen’s Park, Maryborough.

Special thanks also go to STEAMfesta sponsors Fraser Coast Regional Council, Stockland Hervey Bay and the Hervey Bay Neighbourhood Centre.

Follow the STEAMfesta team on Facebook.