You watch steam blow from the locomotive’s chimney as it sits idly at the station. Men and women dressed in Victorian fashion walk along the platform around you, smiling and taking photos. Your eyes catch a market set up on the other side of the locomotive. Here, you see a multitude of arts and crafts, books, and antiques for sale. Your attention, although, is on the strange contraption at the edge of the market. It looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel. The inventor of this device calls it: Virtual Reality. You put it on and reality disappears as you reappear on the bridge of an airship in the midst of a battle.
No, this isn’t fiction. This was, in fact, September 15-16 at the Adelaide Steampunk Festival at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in Port Adelaide. For one weekend, the NRM came alive with fans of both steampunk and history. This is a walking tour review of the event and why you, dear reader, will enjoy it too.
Your senses are overwhelmed as soon as you step through the museum gates. You get the illusion that you have just stepped into an alternate world, where steam and Victorian fashion is still dominant. There is the combined scent of steam from Peronne (NRM’s operating tank engine) and potato on a stick. These combine in taste as you purchase your own potato on a stick from near the signal box and begin your journey into the festival.
Entering the first pavilion you are greeted by professional photographers. To the left is a set up where you can sit and listen to steampunk enthusiasts and authors talk. On your right is a small cinema set up with Georges Méliès’s 1902 film A Trip to The Moon (based on Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon).
Down the first row, display cabinets filled with old railway memorabilia and a reconstruction of the Adelaide Railway Station ticket booth are to your right. To your left, in carriages used by Commonwealth Railways on the Trans-Australian Railway, is the Pop Club and another photography spot. The Pop Club have wargames set up for visitors in the dining car while professional photographers are set up in in a nearby carriage. A wargame or two would be good later, you think.
The main steampunk market sits in the second row of the museum. Here, you find a range of goods, foods, and crafts to buy. Some include antique dinner sets, Dark Oz’s DECAY and Retro Sci-fi series comics, and cupcakes. The first set up on the left of the market is a VR set up, brought to you by the Flinders University Digital Media Department. You continue to browse what’s for sale through the marketplace. A custom-made TARDIS coffee table catches your attention, although its $340 price tag is a little steep. You finish your snack in time to reach a cupcake stand run by B is for Bake. After a quick browse, you buy a double chocolate cupcake, fascinated by the decorative chocolate steam cog.
Before you go down the next row another display catches your eyes. This one is filled with metalwork art, ranging from steam operated electric lights to a clockwork robotic dog. You wonder how can people make such wonderful art. You swear the robotic dog could actually work.
You continue to the end row. Here, among the carriages and steam locomotives, you find a ‘secret’ second market. Here, an artist can give you calligraphy on a picture or bookmark for a small fee (free with a purchase), purchase steampunk detective fiction by local author Karen J. Carlisle, and converse with sci-fi comic author and game developer Mike Cooper (Dr. Mike 2000). At the end of the row are a group of musicians playing some rock music to heighten the atmosphere. You stand for a moment and take in the music, finding it unusual to hear such music in a historical setting.
There isn’t much in the next pavilion, apart from a stage where more performances occur throughout the day. You begin to wonder what to do next. Do you go have a game or two at Pop Club’s set up? Do you try the VR experience? Or will you go explore what else the museum has? If so, will you go ride Perrone or Bub, ride the Bluebird railcar, or grab a drink from the 1940s style Cafeteria car?
You had a lot of fun while you were there and make a note to visit again to it again next year. You make a reminder to recommend to the dear reader to also come along and visit too if you have an interest in steampunk, 19th-century history, literature and fashion.
There is a lot of fun to have at the Adelaide Steampunk Festival. The NRM is the best place to hold it as it blends in well with the old locomotives and rolling stock. The day is great for fans of steampunk. It also gives reason to visit the NRM, one of Adelaide’s many hidden gems. The Steampunk is an annual event so if you’re interested in attending next year, you can check out more information on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adelaidesteampunkfestival/.
Words and photography by Cameron Lowe.
Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.