Renowned author Janet Frame’s Oamaru childhood home has just completed another successful visitor season.
The property at 56 Eden St, where Frame lived from 1931 to 1943, is open to the public from 2pm to 4pm each day from November 1 to April 30. Custodian Lynley Caldwell said the season was “really good”, with visitor numbers on a par with other years. They were a mix of New Zealanders and people from Australia, the United States, and Europe.
The house was bought about 15 years ago by then-New Zealand Historic Places Trust chief executive Bill Tramposch and his wife Peggy, who had it “reframed” with the author’s blessing. It has been furnished similarly to how it was when the Frames lived there.
Frame died in 2004, before the house was taken over by the not-for-profit Janet Frame Eden Street Trust and opened as a destination in 2005.
Frame incorporated the setting into her first novel, Owls Do Cry, and it features strongly in her autobiography.
Visitors are charged $5 for a guided tour of the house and can spend time in it and the garden. They can can listen to a recording of Frame reading an excerpt relating to the house, write in a visitors’ book, and buy copies of Frame’s works.
Miss Caldwell said there were “lovely comments” in the visitors’ book, saying what a thrill it was to be able to see where Frame began writing.
Some visitors were on a pilgrimage to the Frame house, while others were less familiar with her works and wanted to learn more, Miss Caldwell said.
They appreciated the rarity of seeing a house in authentic 1930s style, she said.
“It’s nice seeing people get a buzz.”
The highlight of the visitor season was the annual writers’ weekend in February, Miss Caldwell said. The guest authors were Ockham New Zealand Book Awards nominees Catherine Chidgey and Kate Camp, who interviewed each other at the Oamaru Opera House and spoke at a literary picnic at the house. Chidgey also tutored a creative writing workshop.
“It was a very special three days, and a wonderful example of how a small group of passionate, dedicated people can create stimulating, highly professional arts events that produce a real sense of excitement in the community,” Chidgey said.
She was impressed that the workshop “sold out within a record two days”.
“It felt thrilling to to be talking to new writers about their craft in Janet Frame’s house: the presence of Frame is palpable there, and there was a definite sense that the writers were drawing inspiration and encouragement from the unique opportunity to write in a place so deeply significant to New Zealand literature.
“I took the chance to to do some work on a short story myself, seated at Frame’s desk – an experience I will treasure for a long time.”
The weekend’s events “easily rivalled anything on offer in the larger centres”, Chidgey said.
“You feel you are standing right inside New Zealand literary history; it is unlike any other museum I’ve visited.”
Camp also endorsed the trust’s work.
“Eden Street is one of New Zealand’s most important literary landmarks, second only to the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace in Wellington.
“It preserves our connection with Frame as a child and a young woman, particularly important because her childhood and youth remained the wellspring of her creativity throughout her life.
“It provides a wonderful focus for literary events, and keeps Oamaru firmly on the map in New Zealand’s literary community,” Camp said.
“The house has a role beyond the literary world too, standing as it does as a testament to the power of creativity to overcome adversity and break free from society’s limitations.
“To me the house is a beacon of hope to anyone who ever felt different, or isolated from the ‘real’ action of the world. Through Frame’s extraordinary story we see how world-changing talents can be found in the humble back bedroom of an Oamaru cottage.”